Monday, January 28, 2008

Navy Gets A Rail Gun

The US. Navy has just taken delivery of a functional rail gun at its test laboratory in Dahlgren, Va.

For true sci-fi fans, any mention of a real-world rail gun will draw an instant, slightly audible gasp. Instead of relying on chemical propellants -- such as gunpowder -- a rail gun uses magnetic "rails" to launch a solid, nonexplosive projectile at incredible speed. Theoretically, rail guns would be able to precisely strike targets at extreme ranges, and would negate the risks associated with carrying around tons of explosive ammo. More to the point, they're cool-sounding, just like lasers.

Which is why the news that BAE Systems has delivered a functional, 32-megajoule Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun (32-MJ LRG) to the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., is exciting. Installation of the laboratory launcher is currently under way, and according to BAE, this is the first step toward the Navy's goal of developing a tactical 64-megajoule ship-mounted weapon.

The lab version doesn't look particularly menacing -- more like a long, belt-fed airport screening device than like a futuristic cannon -- but the system will fire rounds at up to Mach 8, drawing on tremendous amounts of electricity to generate the current for each test shot. That, of course, is the problem with rail guns: Like lasers, they're out of step with modern-day generators and capacitors. Eight and 9-megajoule rail guns have been fired before, but providing 3 million amps of power per shot has been a limitation. At 32 megajoules, this new system appears to be the most powerful rail gun ever built, and the Office of Naval Research is installing additional capacitors at the Dahlgren facility to support it. The planned 64-megajoule weapon, if it's ever built, could require even more power -- a staggering 6 million amps.
Which may explain why the Navy is planning for all its future ships to be all electric drive. It may also be a reason why the Navy is funding Fusion Research on the WB-7 Fusion Test Reactor. If it works as advertised it will convert fusion power directly to electricity.

H/T scareduck at talk.polywell

3 comments:

LarryD said...

I don't know which came first, the idea of all electric ships or rail guns, but they do dovetail together nicely.

And, of course, a high powered generation system is a absolute requirement.

No, it's not hard to see why the Navy is interested in Bussard fusion.

Nick said...

Is it wrong that I want to see them shoot something cool with this thing? Maybe like a wood frame house or a big stack of fish tanks full of guacamole.

Jcarlton said...

One might also check out the free electron laser program:
http://www.jlab.org/FEL/
for another reason why the navy wants electric ships