For the past 12 years, the US Navy has worked on an electromagnetic railgun — a futuristic weapon that uses a magnetic field to fire projectiles at around 7,200kmph speed and annihilates targets as far as 160km away. However, a new report from Task and Purpose has suggested the weapon might never see the light of the day.
Citing several congressional and military sources, the news outlet reports that the railgun, developed with an investment of over $500m (£372m) over the past decade, is not getting enough attention from the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) — the recently declassified department tasked with speeding up new defence techonology languishing in the bureaucracy circles and bringing them into service.
SCO has been looking into different weapon systems, but its interest towards the railgun has not been particularly high — something that could mean insufficient funds with the Office of Naval Research, which might prevent the weapon from undergoing crucial tests required for installation on a naval vessel.
On the contrary, SCO has shown more interest in the specialised ammo developed for the railgun, the report added. Dubbed hypervelocity projectile or just HVP, this ammo is a low-drag tungsten projectile that can be fired with conventional powder weapon and offers cheaper and less complex alternative to traditional guns.
"SCO shifted the project's focus to conventional powder guns, facilitating a faster transition of HVP technology to the warfighter," Chris Sherwood, an SCO spokesperson, told Task & Purpose. "Our priority continues to be the HVP, which is reflected in the program's budget."
Researchers and military sources believe that this shift in priority and reallocation of resources could forestall the installation and demonstration of the railgun, which might be "dead in the water" by 2019.
"People at SCO don't want to fund the railgun because they're simply not buying it," one senior legislative official with direct knowledge of the project told Task & Purpose. "They are imparting that priority on to Big Navy, which is pulling the money away from ONR."
However, it is worth noting that there's no official information regarding the potential delay, at least so far. We saw the railgun in action in July and as per ONR spokesperson David Smalley, "there have been no show stoppers to date to prevent the Navy from having a railgun in the future".
"ONR's intention is to continue working on the system, continuing to maturing the components, and moving towards demonstrating a full-scale 32 megajoule launcher and pulsed power system capable of high repetition firing," Smalley added.