US Navy eye electromagnetic cannons

WASHINGTON, June 25, (APP): US Navy eye electromagnetic cannons


The US Navy is quietly pushing ahead with a radical new cannon that one day could transform how wars are fought, even though some Pentagon officials have voiced concerns over its cost and viability.


Named the railgun, the weapon in question represents a paradigm shift in ballistic technology. Instead of using gunpowder and explosive charges to shoot a shell from its barrel, it employs vast amounts of electromagnetic energy to zoom a projectile along a set of copper-alloy rails.


Thanks to four small fins on its rear, the hefty round can then be guided toward a moving object -- such as an enemy ship, drone or incoming ballistic missile -- relying purely on the kinetic energy from its vast momentum to destroy the target.


Ultimately, scientists expect the railgun rounds to travel at speeds up to Mach 7.5, which at 5,700 mph (9,100 kph) is more than seven times the speed of sound, and cover a distance of about 100 miles (160 kilometers.)


"The railgun is revolutionary in terms of how much it can accelerate the bullet," Tom Boucher, the railgun program manager for Office of Naval Research, told AFP at the Pentagon as he displayed six interconnected steel plates that all had been shredded by a single test round.


"Powder guns have been matured to the point where you are going to get the most out of them. Railguns are just beginning."


The futuristic weapon has long been a darling of the Navy's research wing, along with other game-changing technologies such as laser beams that can track a boat in choppy water and blast holes in its hull.


Yet the railgun, which so far has cost more than $500 million, may find itself becoming something of a victim of its own success -- even before it is made operational.


That's because of its special shells designed to hurtle through the skies at jaw-dropping speeds.


These rounds, called High Velocity Projectiles, can be guided in flight. They can also be fired from a conventional five-inch cannon.