Watch the US Navy Test Out Their Giant, Long-Range Electromagnetic Railgun

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 - 11:00AM
Physics
Technology
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 - 11:00AM
Watch the US Navy Test Out Their Giant, Long-Range Electromagnetic Railgun
Image credit: NAVSEA
The idea of electromagnetic projectile weapons that fire ammunition without the need of conventional gunpowder has shown up in countless science fiction properties over the years, with the expectation generally being that, once magnetic technology gets good enough, human scientists will find a way to weaponize it as a helpful, deadly alternative to more dated means of blowing stuff up.

As it turns out, there really is a potential future in railguns. The US Navy is currently experimenting with electromagnets, looking to find the perfect amount of energy needed to fire a projectile for the most efficient level of destruction, in tests that could see gunpowder being replaced by electromagnetism as the dominant force behind battleship canons.

Over the next two years, the Navy is going to test various different power output levels for their electromagnetic canons—this year they'll be testing 20 megajoule bursts of energy (roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity a refrigerator uses in a twelve hour period) while next year, they'll test 32 megajoule shots. Here's a video of one of the Navy's railguns in action:



It's really cute, by the way, that the US Navy Research's press team feels the need to dub dramatic orchestral music over their footage in order to make things seem more cinematic. You're already firing a chunk of metal out of a giant electromagnet, guys! That's already impressive!

According to the Office of Navy Research, there are all kinds of benefits to railguns over traditional gunpowder-based canons on ships—not only do railguns hit hard at a long range, but they're also a lot safer for those who are firing them:

Opening quote
"The revolutionary railgun relies on a massive electrical pulse, rather than gunpowder or other chemical propellants, to launch projectiles at distances over 100 nautical miles-and at speeds that exceed Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. That velocity allows projectiles to rely on kinetic energy for maximum effect, and reduces the amount of high explosives needed on ships."
Closing quote


If the US armed forces are going to start using the futuristic technology of electromagnetic railguns, though, it's worth assuming that similar sci-fi weapons are also not that far away. We already know that the military is working on sending drones carrying laser rifles into battle. Surely we're not that far away from the time when the Swiss Army Lightsaber becomes a standard issue piece of equipment.
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