The United States Navy has tested two new pieces of similar technology this month, ushering in a new era for naval warfare. Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy successfully tested it’s new hypersonic railgun, capable of firing a projectile using electromagnetic force rather than a chemical explosive. On December 10th, a 20-pound aluminum slug was flung some 5,500 feet at a speed of Mach 7, nearly 5,000MPH. On December 18th, the Navy tested a similar device, but this one designed to catapult jet fighters off of the deck of an aircraft carriers. Known as the EMALS, Electro-Magnetic Aircraft launch System, the device would replace steam-powered catapults that have been in use since the 1950s.

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U.S. Navy railgun ready for testing. Image Souce: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy hopes that it’s new railgun will replace conventional cannon on ships soon. The unit tested this month is capable of firing a projectile some 100 miles with an average hypersonic speed of Mach 5+. This test consisted of two separate shots, about an hour apart. The first shot produced around 32 mega-joules of power, the second 33 mega-joules. A bigger, more powerful railgun is planned, capable of 60_ mega-joules, which could give that weapon a range of 200 miles.

A major advantage of the railgun is that since no chemical explosive is used for fire the shell, ships will be able to carry several times more ammunition. Also, the railgun will give warships a major leap in ranged weapon fire. Inexpensive rounds of ammo can be rapid fired against targets many times further than conventional guns. This would enable a warship to attack targets at such ranges cheaper than using expensive guided missiles.

Likewise, the Navy plans to begin using the EMALS to launch planes from the next generation of aircraft carriers. The test last week involved a shore-mounted system which catapulted an F/A-18E Super-Hornet into the air. Aircraft carriers need to use catapults to launch modern jets since they are far heavier than planes of the World War Two era and before. Back then, a carrier simply turned into the wind and went to full speed to give aircraft an extra 30-50MPH needed to launch. Steam catapults used currently will accelerate a jet fighter to 150 knots in about 2 seconds.

Both of the U.S. Navy’s applications for electromagnetic railgun technology will improve the capabilities of our naval forces. Larger, heavier aircraft and bomb loads will be easier to launch from aircraft carriers. The 64 mega-Joule railgun planned for deployment in the next generation of cruisers will enable them to attack targets within a 200-mile radius. With projectile speeds of Mach 7, there is little, if anything, a target can do to escape destruction, let alone retaliate.

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