The US Navy has outlined plans to deploy and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun (EM railgun) on-board a joint high-speed vessel (JHSV) in the fiscal year 2016.
The test, which is the first at-sea demonstration of an EM railgun, marks a significant advance in naval combat for the US Navy, as well as the latest in a series of technical maturation efforts intended to provide an operational railgun to the fleet.
Using an electromagnetic force known as the Lorenz Force, the EM railgun technology can rapidly accelerate and launch a projectile between two conductive rails.
Launched at high velocities to achieve greater ranges than conventional guns, the guided projectile maintains enough kinetic energy, while eliminating the need of a high explosive payload when it reaches its target.
The high-energy railguns are designed to be lethal and effective against multiple threats, including enemy warships, small boats, aircraft, missiles and land-based targets.
The navy chief engineer rear admiral Bryant Fuller said that the announcement marks the US Navy's new offensive capability.
"This capability will allow us to effectively counter a wide-range of threats at a relatively low cost, while keeping our ships and sailors safer by removing the need to carry as many high-explosive weapons," Fuller said.
In addition to complementing the existing kinetic weapons, the EM railgun will be capable of launching guided, multi-mission projectiles to a range of 110nm.
The cost for each engagement against specific threats is less expensive than comparable missile engagements. Furthermore, the projectile itself is being designed to be compatible with some current powder guns.
Naval research chief rear admiral Matt Klunder said: "The US Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology."
The navy is considering JHSV non-combatants for testing the new technology because of its available cargo, topside space and schedule flexibility.
Image: A US Navy's EM railgun prototype being evaluated. Photo: courtesy of US Navy by John F. Williams/Released.