Rail Gun Breaks Own Record

Fox News reports that the Navy’s experimental Rail Gun has tripled its projectile energy output …

An electromagnetic railgun offers a velocity previously unattainable in a conventional weapon, speeds that are incredibly powerful on their own. In fact, since the projectile doesn’t have any explosives itself, it relies upon that kinetic energy to do damage. And at 11 a.m. today, the Navy produced a 33-megajoule firing — more than three times the previous record set by the Navy in 2008.

“It bursts radially, but it’s hard to quantify,” said Roger Ellis, electromagnetic railgun program manager with the Office of Naval Research. To convey a sense of just how much damage, Ellis told FoxNews.com that the big guns on the deck of a warship are measured by their muzzle energy in megajoules. A single megajoule is roughly equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 mph. Multiple that by 33 and you get a picture of what would happen when such a weapon hits a target.



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Griffin

    I can’t help but wonder when handheld railgun (or similar) technology will progress to the point that “fire”arms are as antiquated archery is today.

    Not anytime soon of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened in the next 50 years.

  • charles222

    Holy crap. That is all.

  • kvalseth

    Looks great but a little impractical for CCW. When will NSWC Dalgren make a subcompact?

  • Matt

    But can you mount a foregrip on it?

    • Matt, LOL, somebody sure will.

  • Matt

    33 megajoules. Thats like 650 20mm cannon rounds all at once.

  • Alan

    I am deeply saddened at the lack of impact footage. 🙁 But still, watching something moving so fast that it sets the air on FIRE, is still freaking cool.
    http://bcove.me/nljegafi

  • Nadnerbus

    When they can sustain that energy in a useful rate of fire, then we will be on to something. Generating the juice to keep that going at, say, ten to fifteen rounds a minute for a minute or two is the hard part.

  • Chase

    They’re super cool, to be sure. I can’t help but wonder if things like this are ever going to see a day of use. Industrial and post-industrial nations don’t ever seem to fight each other anymore. I can’t imagine a situation where one naval ship would have cause to aim one of these at another. Still good for shoreside shelling, though.

  • Idaho

    Oh wow… I thought this project died a while ago. These things eat up energy and materials like candy. I’d be interested to see what they did different with this version.

  • subase

    Now when the Decepticons decide to invade we’ll be ready.

  • charles222

    The potential utility is far too great for this project to ever die-I remember reading about it all the way back in 1992, and it had been ongoing for some time even then.

    Just think of the range this translates to-you could conceivably use cheap, GPS-guided gun rounds to supplement or even replace the TLAM. Just gotta figure out a way to steer the round in flight.

    The biggest issue as far as I know, as mentioned above, is getting the barrel to not melt. Eventually the power supply technology will be small enough to get put on tanks and aircraft, and then-a very long time from now-small enough to make a man-portable anti-armor weapon.

    Rail gun technology is going to be the biggest game-changer in military technology of this century, IMO.

  • More useful comparison than the old truck speed non-analogy:

    Good tank cannons have about a third of that projectile energy at muzzle.

    A 8″ gun of a WW2 heavy cruiser (Baltimore class) had a 120 kg projectile with MV of 853 m/s. That would be 853*853*120/2 J = 43.66 MJ.
    The rail gun is in between 6″ and 8″ naval guns now.

    The extreme velocity leads to very unnormal ballistics, of course.

  • Pete

    I read somewhere that there is still no proper materials to make a durable and practical barrel for such gun. Just look at the fireball the friction between the barrel and the projectile produces.

  • snufferoo

    Nuclear powered battleship with a few of these would be wicked.

  • slntax

    Griffin

    it is unlikey that we will ever see handheld railgun technology the same reason we wont see weapons grade handheld laser technology. and the reason is battery technology/portable power limitations. this railgun probably has a nearby power plant supplying all the juice required. handheld railgun/lasers would need to miniaturize a nuclear reactor to backpack size to supply the juice. which in it self is a extreme technological challenge.

    on a side note if hand held railgun tech or lasers became the new standard weapons. what are the legal implications? are they still firearms protected by the constitution? thus will citizens have access to them? or will they be a new class of weapons which only the military/leo will have access?

  • Blu

    @ Alan that’s because the impact data is classified.

  • “Just look at the fireball the friction between the barrel and the projectile produces.”

    I suspect the flames are rather the heated-up and compressed air that’s combusting. It’s like a meteorite.

  • Idaho

    @Pete
    Yea, that’s one of the main problems with this system. The barrels have a problem with overheating from friction and high current. However, the fire is actually from the high air friction. Also, a common problem is that if the round has any deformities, the current will arc between round and rail. This literally vaporizes the rail.

    @sintax
    Excellent question. IMHO, since the Constitution simply says “…keep and bear arms,” and never specifies what type of arms we can keep, I say that they should be protected. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were regulated the same way as automatic weapons.

  • jdun1911

    That rail gun will need a lot of power and I doubt any ship that is less then nuclear can used it in any effective manner. A whole new ship design need to built around this cannon. The question would it be better to use missiles attacking land, air, and targets or rail guns?

  • zincorium

    @slntax

    Currently, the legal position for railguns and coilguns is that they are not firearms, similar to crossbows, so there could be an in-between period where these weapons are in use but not governed by the same laws.

    The key thing, here, is that if they are not firearms, the BATF cannot restrict them, but once they are firearms the second amendment will apply to whatever degree the BATF chooses, so clearly the BATF will push for that classification.

    Arguably, since an electronically fired railgun could be easily modified to fire multiple rounds (at a slow pace, admittedly) without individual pulls of a trigger, they could use precedent to class them all as machine guns, which would simplify paperwork for them and put all rail guns permanently out of reach for civilian collectors.

  • subase

    It’s basically a high tech ‘super gun’ thus limiting the technology only to the most advanced nations. The ‘super cannon’ was just that, the inventor of which was assassinated by the Mossad and the technology was buried by the U.S in the Gulf War.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Babylon

    It was designed to shoot satellites into orbit, but of course it’s power meant it could shoot projectiles across the world. (Towards Israel) It was basically super artillery.

    The problem with rocket technology is it’s cost in both time and materails and susceptibility to electronic jamming. With rail gun tech the U.S can simultaneously prevent nations from developing nuclear energy, which would be the only power source able to provide enough power to this weapon. Two birds in one stone.

  • spudfiles

    “The rail gun is in between 6″ and 8″ naval guns now.”

    In terms of kinetic energy perhaps, but the railgun projectile is essentially solid shot meaning it needs to match the shell’s chemical explosive energy to be equivalent. On the other hand, given precise targeting technology and a need to avoid collateral damage, modern weapons tend to do more with less – and what this will be competing with would be extended range guided projectiles from medium calibre naval guns, such at the Oto Melara Vulcano.

  • Mountainbear

    Remember folks, the first computers? ENIAC and stuff? They didn’t fit into my living room. Yet my old Amiga 500 could outperform them easily. Or airplanes. First flight 1903, 40 years later we had the first jets.

    The railgun will follow a similar pattern.

  • Pete

    “With rail gun tech the U.S can simultaneously prevent nations from developing nuclear energy, which would be the only power source able to provide enough power to this weapon. Two birds in one stone.”

    Is the USA a Republic or Empire? Many people across the World are starting to have doubts…

  • “@sintax
    Excellent question. IMHO, since the Constitution simply says “…keep and bear arms,” and never specifies what type of arms we can keep, I say that they should be protected. ”

    Afaik there’s still a militia law from around 1800 in effect that requires every male citizen to own a musket, some blackpowder and lead balls.
    The authorities don’t seem toe nforce this law any more…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militia_Acts_of_1792

  • Komrad

    I don’t see why an explosive could not be used in the projectile, provided it was shielded from the extreme heat somehow

  • Squidpuppy

    For your viewing pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LjnhhtHojM
    In case you can’t wait for it to show up at your local shop: http://thecontaminated.com/do-it-yourself-coil-gun/

  • Bryan S

    How much did it cost?

    And is it worth it?

  • Martin (M)

    It amuses me how the Navy tries to spin this information. Instead of giving simple facts, they muddle perceptions with odd comparisons. Understandably, they’re trying to preserve their jobs (funding) by up-selling their achievements.

    Here’s some real facts:
    A current 5″/54 caliber gun delivers about 10 Megajoules of energy by firing a 70lb projectile at 2500fps. (not counting explosive charge)
    The AP shells of the big 16″ guns delivered about 400 Megajoules of energy. (again, no explosives calculated)

    The Advanced Gun System for the Zumwalt destroyers (155mm gun) would deliver about 33 Megajoules. This figure may be the impetus for this test, as the Zumwalts were supposed to be the be-all end-all of surface combatants. This could either be a vestigial offshoot of that program, or an attempt to revive a cruiser sized surface ship.

    The biggest detractor is that is has no bursting charge, relying only on kinetic energy. While that may bode ill for metal plate or concrete walls, it’s totally ineffective against softer targets like earth or water. In fact, 33 megajoules is only equivalent the energy content of less than 2 gallons of petroleum! Since a major theme of the Zumwalts was support fire, the lack of a bursting charge would render these rounds almost useless. More importantly, any support fire would be fired in parabolic arcs for long range, which would result in drastically lower velocities. Additionally, any near misses against surface vessels would be equally useless.

    So while this setup was able to achieve this figure on a small test range, it’s far from anything resembling reality. If anything, it highlights several serious shortcomings of using such a weapon.

  • Tom

    The New York Daily News reported:

    “By 2025, the Navy wants to be able to fire the gun at 64 megajoules, making it capable of sending a bullet 200 miles in six minutes, scientists said.”

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2010/12/12/2010-12-12_navys_scifi_railgun_breaks_record_for_most_powerful_gun_on_the_planet_video.html#ixzz183ocsaSG

  • subase

    In my view they are secretly working on (in the guise of a gun for navy) similar technology to the ‘super cannon’ or ‘super artillery’ that I mentioned before, only this time they are using rail gun principles. (to exclude the technology from every nation except those with miniaturized nuclear reactors)

    The idea is to eventually be able to lob a nuclear warhead through only kinetic energy making it virtually unstoppable. Rocket technology is vulnerable to electronic jamming and tracking, hacking of infrastructure and electromagnetic pulses.

    This super gun could be self contained (through battery power), small and aimed manually.

  • snufferoo

    Found the video.

  • jdun1911

    I remember the ‘Super Cannon’ that Saddam Hussein had. Hell they even made a movie about it. It was able to hit Israel. You know what? I don’t think it fire a single shot because IIRC a cruise missile hit it at the start of the first Gulf War.

    All that money could have spent better spent improving other needed military technology.

  • subase

    I’m not saying the the cannon ever worked but the guy who invented it was likely assassinated by Mossad, which means his invention was deemed a credible threat.

    Potential advanced weapon technology like that never disappears just changes hands. The deal the U.S made after WWII with the Japanese Unit 731 is an example.