Globe-straddling weapons megacorp BAE Systems is pleased to announce that it has inked a deal with the US Navy to build a new electromagnetic hypercannon.
"This EM Railgun contract is a continuation of BAE Systems’ dedication to delivering advanced technology for tomorrow's Sailors,” said Jim Schoppenhorst, BAE veep in charge of selling stuff to the (US) navy.
The $21m deal will see BAE's recently acquired American operations build a new and more powerful prototype railgun for the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The US naval boffinry operation has already demo'd a record-breaking 10 megajoule magnocannon (see the vid), but it wants more.
Specifically, the ONR wants a 64-megajoule hypervelocity job, able to lob its projectiles 200 miles or more and have them arrive still going at Mach 5-plus.
These irresistible magnetic thunderbolts would be very hard to defend against, perhaps restoring the surface warship to its lost dominion over the seas and coastal areas of the world. (Surface warships are pretty much the only mobile systems which might be able to supply enough electricity to run a combat-grade railgun.)
Perhaps more relevantly to the USN - whose dominance of the oceans is not, after all, in much doubt at the moment - there would be logistic benefits. The shells would be solid metal, delivering their violence kinetically rather than explosively, and there would likewise be no need for the dangerous chemical propellants (gunpowder) used in today's cannon.
Shipping munitions about, keeping them in date, avoiding them catching fire and so on are all big issues for modern navies. Harassed supply chiefs would much prefer to be dealing merely with inert projectiles and extra supplies of fuel for the ship's powerplant.
As the ONR note, "one of the greatest potential advantages for the Railgun program is the safety and logistics aspect".
The new prototype magnocannon is expected to start shooting in 2011. ®
*From I Sing the Body Electric. As any fule kno.