US Navy testing electromagnetic rail gun
US Navy testing electromagnetic rail gun REUTERS/Joel Page

Electromagnetic rail gun, the US Navy's futuristic weapon system that can launch hypervelocity projectiles, is finally being prepped for field demonstration.

The weapon system, which uses electric power charges to propel a projectile at speeds up to Mach 7.5, is ready to be tested at Naval Surface Warfare Centre's new rail gun Rep-Rate Test Site in Virginia, says a statement from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) provided to Scout Warrior.

ONR, the organisation dedicated to several US Navy technologies, has been researching rail gun as a deadlier alternative for explosive or propellant equipped projectiles. The system relies on electromagnetic forces that impart high amounts of kinetic energy to propel a projectile at a muzzle velocity of about 2km/s. It releases 3-5 amps of current which, according to experts, equals about 1,200 volts in just 10 miliseconds.

"Initial rep-rate fires (repetition rate of fires) of multi-shot salvos already have been successfully conducted at low muzzle energy," said the statement from ONR. "The next test sequence calls for safely increasing launch energy, firing rates and salvo size".

The organisation plans to test the weapon system at 20 megajoules of energy by the end of this summer and increase it up to 32 megajoules by next year. ONR notes one megajoule of energy would have the effect of a one ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour.

Thomas Beutner, director of the Naval Air War and Weapons Department at ONR, said: "Rail guns and other directed energy weapons are the future of maritime superiority. The US Navy must be the first to field this leap-ahead technology and maintain the advantage over our adversaries."

All told, with a fire-rate of 10 rounds per minute, electromagnetic rail gun is better than conventional weapons in terms of range and destructive force. It can readily launch a hypervelocity projectile, engineered as a kinetic warhead, to destroy far-off targets. These projectiles cost only $25,000 [£19,500] per round and can also be stored in ships in bulk, unlike other missile systems designed for similar missions.

The current electromagnetic rail gun can only launch projectiles against stationary targets, but chances are the Navy will make some changes in the weapon system to add the capability of destroying moving targets. As for its combat application, the officials are looking at the idea of mounting the system on DDG 1000 destroyer by the mid-2020s.