2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Navy unveils its mach 7 magnetic mangler

Published: April 10, 2014, 4:27 pm, by Tom Roeder

electromagnetic-railgunThe Navy this week is showing off one of its most secret weapons — a railgun straight out of Star Trek that can take out targets at 100 miles with a projectile flying at nearly 7,000 feet per second.

Long the topic of science fiction, the rail gun uses magnetic pulses to drive a metal projectile at eye-popping speeds and wrecks targets with pure kinetic energy rather than explosives. The military has talked about railgun research for years,  but a working model has been elusive.

The biggest difficulty with railguns is the breathtaking amount of electricity required to make them work. The Navy said a single shot of its railgun uses 33 megajoules of electricity — enough power to run the average American household for three days.

All that electricity leads to impressive results, the Pentagon said on its technology blog.

railgun-damage“Weapons that can tear through walls like a pencil punctures a balloon,” the blog said. “If you thought lasers were going to change the game, rail guns are going to blast the doors wide open.”

The military loves the idea of the railgun because it has few moving parts, uses no gunpowder and is comparatively cheap to use — costing just a penny for every dollar of some conventional arms. The downside to the weapon is the thirst for electricity.  But that’s of little concern in a fleet featuring gas turbines and nuclear power.

And if it lives up to billing, it can be more effective than a laser in taking out enemy planes and missiles and wipe out targets on the ground with ease.

The Navy released a video of the gun in action, slicing through armor plate like butter and vaporizing a truck.

And the technology is coming to the fleet soon, with shipboard tests planned for 2016.

“Over the last few years, the Navy and the Marine Corps have been developing hugely impressive – I call them Star Wars-like – weapons systems,”  Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, Chief of Naval Research said on the blog.  “Based on the hugely impressive performance we’ve been witnessing, we thought it was really about time to let the American public see them.”

While the American public gets to see the weapon, so do America’s enemies. The military in recent years has timed the unveiling of new technology to global events.

The last time North Korea got frisky, the Navy showed off an anti-missile laser.

Now, with the crisis continuing in the Ukraine, the Navy is showing off something even scarier.“We’ve fired the railgun hundreds of times and gotten tremendous results,” Klunder said.