Thinking Tech

Video: Is navy's hypersonic railgun a game-changer?

Video: Is navy's hypersonic railgun a game-changer?

Posting in Technology

A recently released video demonstrates the long-range destructive power of a railgun prototype known as the "Blitzer."

The U.S. Navy may be well on its way toward obtaining a breakthrough weapon that can hit enemy targets located hundreds of miles away in less time than it takes to heat up a microwave dinner.

Defense firm General Atomics' has recently released a video that demonstrates the long-range destructive capabilities of a high-speed railgun prototype known as the "Blitzer." During tests, rounds fired from the gun blasted right through a 1/8-inch thick steel plate located 100 meters downrange and continued to travel more than four miles at mach five speed. In layman's terms, that's about 4,000 miles an hour at zero elevation.

For decades, the Navy has long been infatuated with the idea of arming warships with battle-ready electromagnetic railguns. This isn't surprising considering that such a weapon has the potential to intercept missiles with an unparalleled combination of long-range accuracy and velocity. Initially proposed as part of the Reagan-era "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative, the technology can also have non-military applications such as launching satellites and space shuttles or even help avert a doomsday scenario by taking out asteroids on a collision course toward earth.

So how does it work?

You can basically think of an electric rail gun as a really big electrical circuit. It consists of a power source, two conducting rails running parallel to each other and, in between them, a piece of conductive metal known an armature that houses the round. To fire a round, a powerful electrical current at a magnitude of about a million amps is sent flowing through the positive conducting rail, through the armature and back towards the power source in a semi-circular motion to generate an electromagnetic field. The force generated by the electromagnetic field is what causes the round to launch at such high velocity.

For a visual explanation of how the technology works, check out out this railgun infographic.

Early tests on the Blitzer sputtered as the company experimented with rounds known coincidentally as “hypersonic bricks." These have since been replaced with a high-speed sabot round developed by Boeing. And as you can see from the video, they work much better.

Company officials hope to take the promising results and scale up the railgun to where it can be installed aboard a DDG-51 class destroyer by the year 2020.

So without further adieu, here's that jaw-dropping test video:

(via Military.com)

Photo: General Atomics'

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure