By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy plans to test a prototype of an electromagnetic rail gun at sea from the deck of a Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV) in 2016.
Speaking to reporters at an April 3 press conference at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, and Rear Adm. L. Bryant Fuller III, deputy commander for ship design, integration and naval engineering for Naval Sea Systems Command, announced that a rail gun will be tested at sea onboard USNS Millinocket in 2016.
The JHSV was selected for the test because a rail gun can be temporarily deployed on the ship without intrusive modification. Fuller said the gun will be placed on the flight deck and the supporting equipment will be staged in Conex intermodal container boxes in the ship’s spacious cargo bay. The gun will not be integrated into the ship’s systems, and the JHSV will not be a platform for operational deployment of the weapon.
“Rail guns use an electromagnetic force — known as the Lorenz Force — to rapidly accelerate and launch a projectile between two conductive rails,” a Navy spokesman said in a March 31 statement. “A precisely controlled high-power electric pulse is delivered to the rails where the magnetic field is generated. Range can be controlled by varying the nature of that pulse, giving rail guns a significant advantage over traditional powder guns.
“Rail guns complement current kinetic weapons currently onboard surface combatants and offer a few specific advantages,” the statement said. “Against specific threats, the cost per engagement is orders of magnitude less expensive than comparable missile engagements. They also can expand the current capabilities of powder guns, enabling the conversion of expensive missiles for use against only the most complex threats. This has an overall effect of dramatically increasing the capacity of our current inventory.”
Klunder said the rail gun prototypes have demonstrated “hugely impressive performance,” and show promise in fire support, air defense and missile defense, including ballistic-missile defense, “a new Star Wars capability that is extremely affordable.”
The rail guns will be able to fire 23-pound projectiles out to ranges in excess of 100 nautical miles. Each round costs about $25,000, one-hundredth of the cost of an interceptor missile, Fuller said.
The rail gun program has a goal of developing a weapon that can shoot 10 rounds per minute at Mach 7 with muzzle energy of 32 mega joules. A mega joule is the energy required to hurl a one-ton object at 100 miles per hour.
The electrical power for the tests on Millinocket will be provided by batteries contained in Conex boxes.
BAE Systems and General Atomics have developed prototype rail guns for the Office of Naval Research and “both performed very well,” Klunder said, noting that the selection of one for the at-sea tests has not been made as yet.
Fuller said the Navy plans to integrate a rail gun on a ship in 2018.