Feb 022012
 

Imagine a Naval gun so powerful it can shoot a 5-inch projectile up to 220 miles

 
This is what was then a record-breaking test of the Navy railgun project. In this 2008 demonstration, the Office of Naval Research reached muzzle energy of more than 10 megajoules.

This is what was then a record-breaking test of the Navy railgun project. In this 2008 demonstration, the Office of Naval Research reached muzzle energy of more than 10 megajoules. In 2010, another record-breaking test reached 33 megajoules.
(Credit: Office of Naval Research)

Imagine a Naval gun so powerful it can shoot a 5-inch projectile up to 220 miles, yet requires no explosives to fire.

That’s the Navy’s futuristic electromagnetic railgun, a project that could be deployed on the service’s ships by 2025, and which is now a little bit closer to reality with the signing of a deal with Raytheon for the development of what’s known as the pulse-forming network.

Rather than using explosives to fire projectiles as do conventional naval weapons, the railgun depends on an electromagnetic system that uses the ship’s onboard electrical power grid to fire the gun. The pulse-forming network is a system that stores up electrical power and then converts it to a pulse that is directed into the gun’s barrel, explained John Cochran, the railgun program manager in Raytheon’s Advanced Technology Group.

Essentially, Cochran continued, the process is akin to that of a car’s starter, and how turning the ignition sends a jolt of electricity into the solonoid, which then creates a magnetic field in the solonoid/starter system. With the railgun, he said, current is sent into the barrel, forming a magnetic field, and that, in combination with the current, exerts force on a projectile, firing it out of the barrel. At Mach 0.75.

While Raytheon has scored the $10 million project to develop the pulse-forming network, it isn’t the only contractor working on such a system. According to Roger Ellis, the program manager for the Railgun program at the Office of Naval Research, the Navy has awarded similar contracts to BAE Systems and General Atomics in a risk-reduction strategy that counts on having multiple contractors attacking a problem in order to arrive at the best possible technology.

Safety

One of the main reasons behind the Navy’s railgun program is that being able to power the gun electromagnetically is seen as much safer than having to use conventional explosives.

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