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Say hello to the Navy’s little friend.
Navy scientists set a world record Friday during a test of an electromagnetic railgun, a tractor-trailer sized weapon that sends a 20-pound projectile rocketing through the air at seven times the speed of sound.
The futuristic gun was tested twice at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., and the first shot generated 33 megajoules of force out of the barrel, a world record for muzzle energy, the scientists said.
One megajoule is a unit of energy roughly equal to the energy generated by a 1-ton vehicle moving at 100 MPH. The same rail gun generated about 10 megajoules during a test two years ago.
Roger Ellis, the railgun program manager, told The Washington Post that people “see these things in the video games, but this is real. This is what is very historical.”
What is novel about the gun – aside from its astonishing power – is the way it works.
Instead of relying on explosive propellants like gunpowder to fire, the gun uses a giant surge of electricity to propel the slug out of the barrel at speeds that can approach Mach 8 and can strike targets more than 100 miles away.
Charles Garnett, a project manager on the railgun experiment, told the Post that the gun gets its power the same way a pocket camera builds up energy to operate its flash, but on a much larger scale.
Also, the projectile does not carry a warhead and therefore does not explode on impact, which will allow Navy ships to carry far less explosive material on board and cut down on the possibility of accidental blow ups.
Instead, the slug obliterates whatever it hits by sheer force of impact, hence the Navy’s Latin motto for the project, “velocitas eradico.” Translation: Speed destroys.
The Navy also said that the railgun will allow warships to attack enemies from safe distances and could be used as a defense against enemy cruise missiles.
On Friday, the schoolbus-sized gun took about 5 minutes to power up before an explosion inside the barrel flung the slug about 5,500 feet through the wooded test range.
A bright column of fire trailed the bullet as it left the gun, and it caused a small sonic boom during flight before tumbling into the woods.
“It’s exhilarating,” Elizabeth D’Andrea, the railgun project’s strategic director, told the Post.
Navy officials said the gun isn’t going to be ready for battle any time soon.
Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr Jr., chief of Naval Research, told the Post he would like to see the railgun demonstrated at sea by 2018 and deployed on ships in the early 2020s.
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.
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