The Chief of Naval Operations spoke excitedly about the future of the railgun Thursday, saying he wants to accelerate development of the new long-range weapon “as much as we can.”
“I am impatient with respect to this directed energy … vector,” Navy Adm. John Richardson told CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto at a conference in Washington, D.C. “[The railgun] will be a magnificent weapon. I want to accelerate [it] as much as we can.”
The electromagnetic railgun is a feat of modern engineering. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) described it as “a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants.” Mundane as it may sound on its face, the use of electric fields instead of gun powder allows the railgun to fire a projectile at speeds up to 4,500 miles per hour, almost six times the speed of sound.
Richardson, a seasoned submarine officer, said the railgun has passed the scientific phase and is now “down to engineering.”
The weapon operates by storing an electric charge over several seconds in what is called a ‘pulse power system.’ The electric pulse is then released to the gun itself, creating an electromagnetic force that propels the projectile to distances over 100 miles. The speed at which the projectile is shot is so fast that it does not even need to be armed with explosives; the kinetic force of the projectile alone is enough to destroy a target.
The rail gun has grasped public attention since it first debuted publicly in 2014. The Department of Defense’s video of the weapon in action has well over 1.5 million views on YouTube.
The U.S. Navy was very clear in its faith in the potential for the rail gun when it was made public.
“[It] will give our adversaries a huge moment of pause to go: ‘Do I even want to go engage a naval ship?” Rear Adm. Matt Klunder told reporters in 2014. “Because you are going to lose. You could throw anything at us, frankly, and the fact that we now can shoot a number of these rounds at a very affordable cost, it’s my opinion that they don’t win.”
There has been some speculation that the rail gun may not make its planned sea trial debut this year, but if Richardson has his way, an operational rail gun will be here sooner than later.
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