On Wednesday the U.S. Navy announced plans to test a futuristic weapons system capable of firing a low-cost 23 pound (10–KG) projectile over 100 miles from a ship at sea.
The mini warhead travels at seven times the speed of sound and uses electromagnetic energy to to hurl projectiles.
Wednesday, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, who is chief of Naval Research, announced Navy plans to deploy the futuristic "rail gun" on a Navy cargo ship for testing as early as next year.
Railguns utilize Lorenz Force or electromagnetic energy to launch projectiles from between two conductive rails. The weapon reportedly emits a high-power electric pulse that generates a powerful magnetic field that greatly minimizes recoil.
The U.S. Navy has funded two single-shot railgun prototypes, one by privately held General Atomics and the other by BAE Systems. Klunder said he had selected BAE for the second phase of the project, which will look at developing a system capable of firing multiple shots in succession.
Chief Engineer Rear Admiral Bryant Fuller says that projectiles fired from a railgun have a muzzle energy of about 32 megajoules of force. By comparison, he said one megajoule would move a one-ton object at about 100 mph.
The weapon system has already undergone extensive testing on land.One advantage of firing railguns instead of launching missiles is cost. Officials say a railgun projectile costs about $25,000 versus $500,000 to $1.5 million per missile which makes engaging American battleships and expensive proposition for potential enemy forces.
Currently the Navy has funded development of two single-shot railgun prototypes and plans for building railguns capable of firing consecutive rounds are ongoing. Naval officials say they may have railgun technology installed on battleships by 2018.
One version of the weapon is made by privately held General Atomics and the other by BAE Systems. Klunder said BAE was selected to develop the second phase of the project, that includes building a railgun capable of firing multiple shots in succession.
"We're talking about a projectile that we're going to send well over 100 miles, we're talking about a projectile that can go over Mach 7, we're talking about a projectile that can go well into the atmosphere," Klunder said.
Another advantage touted by the Navy is that ships can only carry dozens of missiles, compared to stocking hundreds of railgun projectiles on board , according to Klunder.
"Your magazine never runs out, you just keep shooting, and that's compelling," he said.
The planned railgun test maneuver comes on the heels of the Navy's announcement that it now has the technology to convert seawater into fuel for conventional vessels and aircraft.
Officials say the process process that extracts carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuel is in itself a "game changer."
Deploying an armada of ships capable of making their own fuel and firing inexpensive projectiles at targets more than 100 miles away would give the U.S. Navy a huge advantage over enemy forces, according to officials.