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The US Navy's Railgun Program 321

Posted by samzenpus
from the shoot-em-if-you-got-em dept.
RougeFive writes "Imagine a warship weapon that can launch projectiles at Mach 10 without explosives (more than three times the muzzle speed of an M16 rifle), that has a range of 220 miles and that uses the enormous speed to destroy the target by causing as much damage as a Tomahawk missile. Meet the U.S. Navy's electromagnetic railgun program."
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The US Navy's Railgun Program

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  • Is this news? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:21PM (#41517701)
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Because people who have not heard of them would discard it as science fiction or game stuff?

      • Re:Is this news? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 01, 2012 @05:36PM (#41519205) Journal

        The problem this is gonna have, is the same problem all sci-fi weapons have, and that is power.

        To feed these things at a decent enough size to take the place of our old battleships in the shore bombardment role you are gonna need nuclear powered ships to feed it and nuclear powered ships are naturally rather large. The question, which is gonna become even bigger as time goes on, is whether building large ships will be logical in the wake of anti-ship missiles becoming cheap and powerful. Just as the carrier made the battleship obsolete so too may we see a day when the large carriers, cruisers, and destroyers become obsolete because your enemy can just launch anti-ship missiles at you until your ship sinks.

        With our large bombers we can launch those from halfway around the world and hit a target but with a nuclear powered boat other than a sub you have a pretty large target that can't really move or dodge very well against missiles that can go insanely fast, be launched from just about anywhere, and are becoming cheaper by the day.

        So while this is cool tech I have to wonder if like the age of the battleship its a tech whose time will be passed before the first ship sets sail. Unless we can find a way to make anti-ship missiles a non threat, which may be possible, after all we have seen those "electric guns" put out insane sheets of explosive rounds that could conceivably just grind the missiles up before they hit the ship, then frankly this tech won't be useful except in attacking your tech poor "jihadist with an AK" type. And if that is the ones you are gonna target why not just use what we have now? Its not like they can do anything against an F-18 at 35k feet with a smart bomb as it is.

        • Re:Is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday October 01, 2012 @06:19PM (#41519609)

          Anti-Ship missiles are a bunch of hooey. Yes they are fast and damn hard to shoot down, but if you are are within range of one those with your navy you are doing it wrong. Oh yes, there are people in the USN that think we could engage in Littoral combat, but they are in the extreme minority.

          No naval officer ever wants to bring his ship so close to shore that one of those missiles could hit it. And if you are out of range of ground fire the only way to fire is ship based, that exposes the firing ship to submarines which are damn near impossible to detect. The other option is submarine launch, which again on launch exposes the asset and anti-submarine warfare is very well understood at this point. And why launch an anti-ship missile from a submarine when a torpedo can be far more damaging.

          The navy is working on a platform for the rail guns that uses current working technology. The systems they are developing will run on top of standard carrier nuclear generation systems. Just like the carriers you have two small nuclear reactors, put them in a large cruiser class ship. There aren't big guns like the old battleships so the ships become multi-role, able to host not only rail gun rounds but missile and radar emplacements. The best part about the rail guns is you do away with explosive munitions, your ammo and firing system are a bunch of wiring, capacitors and a hunk of tungsten for a projectile and you can spread the systems around the ship in a damage control technique (unlike current powder based systems that are a single weak point).

          I actually believe the Navy's future plans are more sustainable and build-able than even the air-force's F-35 program. And their time line is even more believable with the first ship construction around 2016.

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            The best part about the rail guns is you do away with explosive munitions, your ammo and firing system are a bunch of wiring, capacitors and a hunk of tungsten for a projectile and you can spread the systems around the ship in a damage control technique (unlike current powder based systems that are a single weak point).

            Consider the amount of energy that would be stored in those capacitors. If that energy was released in an uncontrolled fashion, it would be just as bad as an ammunition store going off.

  • Old news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Valor958 (2724297) on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:22PM (#41517717)

    In and of itself.. this article is very lacking and at face value is old news. We have been developing railguns for a long time. We have the principles down, but the problem comes with the energy needed to really run a weapons effective version.
    Even the linked article just referrences an overview of the technology and it's goals. Why not an update... did they make a breakthrough? SOMETHING...

    • What they need is some kind of ship with a nuclear reactor that can generate enormous amounts of power.

      Now I wonder who has technology like that in the pipe?

      • What they need is some kind of ship with a nuclear reactor that can generate enormous amounts of power.

        Actually, what they most likely need is some sort of fast-startup generator for the short peak power periods required by such a weapon, e.g., something like an MHD generator.

        • by jafiwam (310805)

          What they need is some kind of ship with a nuclear reactor that can generate enormous amounts of power.

          Actually, what they most likely need is some sort of fast-startup generator for the short peak power periods required by such a weapon, e.g., something like an MHD generator.

          If they haven't changed plans drastically, the peak power is handled by huge capacitors. So it's a reliable and large capacitor problem, plus a "we need more overall electrical output than we used to" problem. A nuclear power run ship makes a lot of sense if you are going to be using lots of power. For multi-shots, they may have to just add more capacitors and count on some lag time between bursts.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The US Navy has been evaluating designs of all-electric powered warships for thirty years or more. The main difference with current warships (like the Arleigh Burke) would be electric motor main propulsion instead of reduction gear off gas turbines. Nothing they (or Congress) are quite comfortable with yet. Destroyers and cruisers would be based on gas turbine generators which have been getting 40+% total thermodynamic efficiencies in operation for some time (vs 25-35% for the old steam boiler warships).

    • The power source is now a black hole. Oh wait! Skip the gun and throw the black hole at the target.

      • The power source is now a black hole. Oh wait! Skip the gun and throw the black hole at the target.

        That's not what the Russians are planning. But it has a sort of symmetry.

    • Re:Old news... (Score:5, Informative)

      by EvolutionInAction (2623513) on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:41PM (#41517913)
      Unfortunately you're dead wrong. We can power them. Maybe not easily, but we can do it. The problem is that you get something like three shots before the rails have eroded to the point of uselessness. Too much friction, too much electrical arcing.
      • by sjames (1099)

        I'll bet the rails are cheaper to replace than 3 tomahawk missiles.

        • Re:Old news... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by FileNotFound (85933) on Monday October 01, 2012 @04:13PM (#41518293) Homepage Journal

          Yeah - but can you replace the rails while underway?

          Here's something for you - a DDG carries 56 Tomahawks, but can load up to 96 if they carry nothing but Tomahawks in their VLS. Rate of fire - 1 missile per second.

          The real question is, what are you going to shoot at that's only 200mi aways? 200mi might sound "far" but reality is that modern anti ship missiles have range 500-1000 miles.

          No DDG is going to sail up to 200mi of a hostile to shoot it with a railgun when then can launch a Tomahawk with it's 800mi range for a Block III or 1500 for Block IIs.

          • > The real question is, what are you going to shoot at that's
            > only 200mi aways?

            Incoming antiship missiles.

            • Railguns are exactly the wrong answer for point defence. You want lots of material in the air for that. Railguns put one very, very fast projectile out.
            • by Baloroth (2370816)

              You wouldn't use or need a railgun for that, you'd use a missile (at long range, so it can guide in on the target) or a cannon at short range (so you don't need homing, you just shoot a ton of bullets and hope one hits, which is the system they use now). Lasers, now, those have some potential. Can't go over-the-horizon, but potentially much more efficient than current defense systems, which is why they are developing them.

              No, railguns are to hit actual targets. 220mi isn't as long-range as a missile, but i

          • by sjames (1099)

            I'll bet it's easier to swap the rails than to go back and get more missiles. There's a lot of stuff under 200 miles from the coast. In some cases, an entire country.

          • Re:Old news... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday October 01, 2012 @05:03PM (#41518879)

            No DDG is going to sail up to 200mi of a hostile to shoot it with a railgun when then can launch a Tomahawk with it's 800mi range for a Block III or 1500 for Block IIs.

            ...at ~$600,000 dollars a shot. That is... expensive, even for the US military, especially when fighting targets that aren't ~1,000 miles away, but which you still don't want to fly a plane over. Also, carrying 56 Tomahawks means you have a shit-ton of explosives on board just waiting to be detonated by a missile or bomb hitting the ship. The thing about railguns is they can be potentially combined with the new laser system the Navy is also developing for defense, meaning you have a platform that can't be hit by enemy missiles and can fire large-scale bombardments for nearly negligible cost (compared to the current cost), over the horizon. Sure, that's a few years or even decades down the line, but when your military operates on the principle of always having the technological upper hand (which is exactly how the US military works), investing in tech that is 10+ years away is a rather sound move. Not to mention the other applications rail technology could have, like space travel.

      • Automated replacement, just like with automated loading? And what if the contact surfaces were actually some kind of replaceable strips?
        • by Znork (31774)

          It's certainly possible, but considering that the rails are subjected to the same force the projectile is and the tolerances are probably fairly important to prevent arcing and maintaining accuracy you may end up with a fairly heavy fixture that needs replacing. Replaceable strips might be possible, but I'd wager that part of the problem in producing replacable parts in a railgun is that pretty much everything apart from the projectile will end up welded into one piece.

    • Rail erosion problem. Power is hardly the only issue. Last I heard (which I admit has been a long time, I don't follow this) getting 100 shots on a rail at full power was a distant dream.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:31PM (#41517811)

    Say it ain't so!

    Hey look Ugg. Your club hurts, but I added a rock to the end of mine. Oh yea, well I have made a thinner club with a pointy edge to it so I can throw it at a distance. Oh yea. I put a sharp stone at the end of it so it will cut into my enemy further (and yes it has hunting applications too).

    oh yea. Well I now can launch it with an other stick.
    Heck I beat you with a more compact stick on a string.
    By the way I have found to put sharper rocks at the end of sticks...

    Hey check this out I found out how to melt rocks into this shiny stuff that doesn't shatter like a rock does, and I can grind it to make it sharper.

    Yea I took your idea and made mine longer.

    Yea, Well mine is sharper and better balanced.

    Hey I just came back from China, I found this neat stuff that explodes.

    Yea. I found I could make the direction better if I encase it metal that can contain and direct the explosion.

    Well mine is bigger.

    Well mine is more portable.

    Well mine is more accurate.

    Well mine can reload faster.

    Well mine I can mass produce.

    Well my big ones explode more.....

    • by evil_aaronm (671521) on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:41PM (#41517917)
      You can take people out of the stone age, but you can't take the stone age out of the people.
    • You missed one. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:44PM (#41517951)

      You missed one MAJOR feature: cost.

      New warfare is going to be all about cost. Nations/organizations battling on a ROI factor.

      Case in point - Al Qu--whatever. They got a lot of dipshits who will die for Allah or whatever and they're giving the US a run for their money in those shitholes they're fighting in.

      The US has all this high tech hardware that's been proven almost useless - the DRONES are being proven USEFULL.

      You got a $190,000,000 aircraft? I got a 10 $10,000,000 aircraft that has a BETTER chance of shooting down the entire squadron of the $190M aircraft. You got ONE F-22 and a bunch of F-15s? So? I got 20+ Migs with assholes who'll die at any means to take YOU out.

      And live to see another day.

      President Eisenhower wasn't so far off (military industrial complex stuff), but he missed the fact of many many very poor people pissed off at the US for various reasons - and they'll die to hurt us.

      People don't get it. They don't. Mitt RMoney is a moron. Obama sort of gets it.

      • Re:You missed one. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Martin Blank (154261) on Monday October 01, 2012 @05:32PM (#41519167) Journal

        I don't think so. I don't know for sure that the $190M F-22 is six times better than a $30M F-15, but it's a lot more than 19 times better than the MiGs it's likely to face. Oh, maybe not the MiG-29, where it's perhaps only eight or ten times better, but the F-22 has the ability to knock you down from 60 miles out (around 100 miles when the AMRAAM-D comes along). Even one F-22 and a few F-15s would make short work of 20+ MiGs at $10M each since at that price, you're using comparatively ancient MiG-23s and not even MiG-29s, which cost three times as much.

        Besides, the factor you missed is AWACS. That's a force multiplier of unbelievable proportion. Iraq learned that the hard way twice. When you have someone watching your back for missiles and aircraft from that far away who isn't likely going to get distracted because someone took a shot at him, it's a powerful ally. Knowing which group of enemy aircraft to target, where SAM sites are, how long an enemy aircraft has been flying (and thus how much fuel they might have left), and other tactical information helps enormously, and anyone fielding F-22s is going to have one or two AWACS planes up there guiding things.

    • When you do that caveman-speak thing you're supposed to put more grammatical errors in than when you're writing normally.

  • Wonderful! First our video games are on rails. Now our guns are.

    • Wonderful! First our video games are on rails. Now our guns are.

      The difference is, with our guns you can choose the target.

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      Wonderful! First our video games are on rails. Now our guns are.

      Just as long as it's not Ruby...

  • Articles on these types of "futuristic" technology projects so rarely take the time to explain the challenges involved in making it a viable tool. This article did. That was refreshing.
  • Explosives (Score:5, Funny)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Monday October 01, 2012 @03:47PM (#41517979) Homepage Journal

    ""Imagine a warship weapon that can launch projectiles at Mach 10 without explosives..."

    Well, that's not counting the railgun itself, I guess.

    They tend to fail spectacularly.

  • It was in the movie [tfwiki.net].
  • ...in 50 years. We promise.

  • Amazing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by musth (901919) on Monday October 01, 2012 @04:14PM (#41518315)

    No reflection at all about the deep problems that our obsession with inflicting violence on other people has got us into.

    If all-holy technology is used to build a bigger, faster something - even if it's a terrifying weapon in the hands of a murderous empire like the US - then slaver over it on Slashdot. Because its about technology, and its about the gunz, and it has to be cool.

  • Or another Hood? Or new Dreadnoughts?

    See the problem? You're just reviving an old paradigma with all its old weaknesses - plus lack of any visual confirmation of hits whatsoever because you're firing way beyond the horizon, plus much longer time of flight due to distance. Accuracy just won't materialize in any way whatever, so you'll end up blanketing an area hoping to hit something sooner or later. If it's a moving target - forget about it.

    • Old paradigms can be revived by new technology. We brought back body armor centuries after it was made obsolete. Why is it so wrong to bring back the battleship?

      Battleships became useless because they couldn't get in range of their targets before they were sunk by aircraft. There are two options to fix this - extend their range, or make them impervious to aircraft. This is a step towards option 1. This doesn't mean we're going to go back to old dreadnought battles, since planes and anti-ship missiles a

  • by erice (13380) on Monday October 01, 2012 @04:40PM (#41518589) Homepage

    You can't hit an object 220 miles away surface to surface by firing in a straight line. There's a big ball of rock and water in the way. If you have to fire in a balistic arc, is the high velocity of a rail gun of much use?

    • Sure. Frictional losses aside, its speed when it hits the ground is the muzzle velocity it was launched with - even on a lob shot. And twice as fast means four times the energy.

      What I wonder is how much wind is needed to make a hit into a not-near-enough miss.

      • by adri (173121)

        .. i'd assume that whatever they were firing would have some kind of guidance control.

        It's 2012. Why would you create a dumb ballistic projectile over that kind of distance?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      You can't hit an object 20 miles away surface to surface by firing in a straight line either, and yet battleships have been hitting each other for a hundred years.

      Yes, the high velocity lets you toss something on a ballistic flight 220 miles in the first place, and the thing arrives at it's target with quite a bit of that speed.

    • by bobbied (2522392)
      One wonders how fast the projectile will be going after nearly 120 seconds in flight (Mach 10/surface distance). Or even worse if one had to use a high ballistic path which would increase the flight time of the projectile a lot and reduce the velocity of the projectile to something approaching it's terminal velocity. Mach 10 would be useful close in, but I'm guessing that the kinetic kill range is going to be limited to targets much closer than the maximum range.

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