US tests electricity-fired long-range weapon

US Navy engineers fired the first industry-built EM Railgun prototype launcher, a future long-range tactical weapon, at a test facility.

Washington: The US has begun testing a weapon that fires projectiles using electricity.

US Navy engineers fired the first industry-built electromagnetic railgun (EM Railgun) prototype launcher, a future long-range tactical weapon, at a test facility, officials announced Tuesday.

The firing at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in Northern Virginia kicked off a two-month-long test series by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers, Xinhua reported.

The test of the long-range weapon has taken the US one step closer toward a future tactical weapon for ships that could hit surface, air and ground targets up to 160 km away, officials said.

"We are starting our full-energy tests to evaluate the barrel life and structural integrity of the prototype system," said Roger Ellis, programme manager of the EM Railgun, part of ONR`s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department.

"It`s the next step toward a future tactical system."

The EM Railgun launcher fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at a speed of about 7,200 km per hour to 9,000 km per hour.

The 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, arrived at NSWCDD on Jan. 30. One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a one-ton car being thrust at 160 km per hour.

The prototype is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the navy.

General Atomics is building the second launcher, scheduled for delivery in April.

ONR previously relied upon laboratory-built systems to advance the technology. After installing the BAE Systems launcher and outfitting it with sensors, high-speed cameras and measuring devices, engineers fired successful low-energy test shots to prepare it for the evaluation.

The team will conduct tests at 20 megajoules and 32 megajoules, shooting test projectiles similar to what was previously fired through NSWCDD`s laboratory launcher.

"The test series will characterize the gun`s performance by shooting several rounds through the barrel at various energy levels to fully exercise the capabilities of the prototype," said Ellis.

When fully developed, the EM Railgun`s increased velocity and extended range over traditional shipboard weapons will allow the navy to conduct precise, long-range naval surface fire support for land strikes; ship self-defense against cruise and ballistic missiles; surface warfare to deter enemy vessels.

The navy`s short-term goal is a 20- to 32-megajoule weapon that shoots a distance of 50 to 100 nautical miles, according to officials.


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