BAE Systems has been handed a $34.5m contract to design a new version of a potentially game-changing weapon of the future.
The US Office of Naval Research gave BAE the cash to build a new railgun prototype which is capable of firing up to 10 shots a minute, while staying cool enough that it doesn't blow up like previous designs. This tendency towards self-destruction has been an abiding problem with the weapons, with railgun prototypes only really expected to survive firing a few shots.
Railguns dispense with explosives and use electromagnetic energy to propel a projectile at super high speeds of up to Mach 7 over distances approaching 200 miles. They are useful for blasting other ships, because the projectiles are extremely difficult to intercept, but could also be used to swat away jet fighters, bombers or missiles.
The Reg's defence expert has previously said the railgun could usher in the second era of the dreadnoughts, the sort of heavily armed gunships that ruled the sea in the days before aircraft carriers.
“We’re committed to developing this innovative and game changing technology that will revolutionize naval warfare,” said Chris Hughes, vice president and general manager of Weapon Systems at BAE Systems. “The railgun’s ability to defend against enemy threats from distances greater than ever before improves the capabilities of our armed forces.”
The contract is part of the ONR's Innovative Naval Prototype programme, which has now reached phase 2. The navy wants to see the technology mature by focusing on upgrading the auto-loading mechanism, thermal management system and also the pulsed power supply which helps to power each shot. It is hoped these weapons will be able to fire up to 10 shots a minute.
During Phase 1 of the scheme, Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia successfully fired BAE Systems’ EM Railgun prototype at "tactical energy levels".
Work on the new railgun will begin immediately in BAE Systems's outpost in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The firm will be helped along by IAP Research in Dayton, Ohio and SAIC in Marietta, Georgia.
BAE is not the first company to design a railgun. General Atomics have also made and fired a railgun weapon called Blitzer. ®