For a long, long time, SF fans have been reading about railguns. And for just as long a time, the promise has been there to actually see one of these in action, only for it to need to go back to the lab. But this time, from the looks of things, the Navy has licked all the problems.
Railing At The World
Railguns are fairly simple to understand. You simply magnetize two rods so that the field is pointing in one direction, drop a metal object on it, and that object “rides” the magnetic field, picking up speed until it hits the end and goes flying.
It sounds cool, and it is, but it’s also almost absurdly destructive. Operating a railgun in a vacuum means you can get a projectile up to speeds even the most advanced artillery can only dream of. So you can see the military value.
Even better, the projectile keeps its kinetic energy, so you don’t need a lot of explosives in the shell; sheer force will often destroy the target for you. And it’s the artillery equivalent of a sniper rifle, as well, as it can fire further and more accurately than standard artillery. In short, it’s the perfect weapon… in theory.
Actually getting one to work in the field has been tricky, but BAE and General Atomics appear to have largely solved those problems. Now to put it on a ship.
This railgun will be loaded onto the Navy’s Joint High Speed Vessel, essentially their test platform for shipboard weapons, as the next step in testing. If the railgun performs well there, it’s on to the next step of testing it on an actual ship. Somehow, we think there’s going to be a lot of competition for this particular testing role.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.