Electromagnetic Rail Guns Are Almost Here

Electromagnetic Rail Guns Are  Almost Here

The Pentagon has been striving to create rail guns since the dawn of the twenty-first century. These potent weapons would hurl projectiles at hypersonic speeds using electromagnetism rather than gunpowder, giving them much greater destructive force. A US defense contractor recently carried out a successful test of one such device. Lacking knowledge of rail weapons? You think that sounds sci-fi? Let's take a look at some history.

The world's armies and ships have fired artillery for centuries by igniting chemical propellants, such as gunpowder, which generated an expansion of gases and force that drove shells toward their target. This 1814 dissertation on artillery explains how this process works. However, that may soon change due to the creation of the terrifying rail gun, a new weapon that shoots projectiles at extremely high speeds from a pair of rails using an electromagnetic field.

A rail gun's projectiles may accelerate at up to Mach 6, or 4,600 miles per hour, according to the Office of Naval Research (ONR). That is much faster than the 1,260 mph that a 155-mm Howitzer shell can go. U.S. The Wall Street Journal was informed by Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the ONR's director, last year that the rail gun "is going to transform the way we battle." The projectile's high speed upon contact would be sufficient to cause significant damage to a target, therefore shells wouldn't even need to contain an explosive charge. The risk of transporting a ship full of explosive shells that could be detonated by an enemy hit as well as the danger to civilians posed by unexploded ordnance that remains scattered over combat scenes long after the fighting has concluded would also be removed.

The recent announcement by the defense contractor General Atomics that a test of their Blitzer rail gun system had been completed successfully at the U.S. Utah's Army Dugway Proving Ground General Atomics vice president Nick Bucci noted in a news statement that "with each additional firing, we continue developing the technologies and conducting risk reduction toward a multi-mission rail gun weapon system that enables future operating on land and at sea."

How Do They Work?

A power supply, a pair of parallel rails, and a moving armature are the three components that make up a rail gun, which is essentially a big electric circuit. Let's take a closer look at each of these components. The power supply is nothing more than an electric current source. Most often, millions of amps are utilized in medium- to large-caliber rail guns. Long pieces of conductive metal, like copper, make up the rails. They can be four to thirty feet long.

The space between the rails is filled by the armature. It could be a solid piece of conductive metal or a conductive sabot, which is a container for a projectile like a dart. A plasma armature is used by some rail guns. In this setup, a non-conducting bullet has a thin metal foil applied on the rear of it. This foil vaporizes and transforms into plasma, which carries the current, when electricity passes through it. Here is how all the parts fit together:

Electricity flows from the power supply's positive terminal up the positive rail, across the armature, and back down the negative rail to the power source. Any wire with current running through it develops a magnetic field around it, which is an area where a magnetic pull is sensed. This force has a direction and a magnitude. The two rails of a rail cannon function as wires, with a magnetic field revolving around each rail. Around the positive rail and the negative rail, the magnetic field's force lines loop counterclockwise and in a clockwise direction, respectively. Between the rails, there is a vertically directed net magnetic field.

The projectile encounters a force called the Lorentz force, similar to a charged wire in an electric field. The magnetic field and the direction in which current is flowing over the armature are both perpendicular to the direction of the Lorentz force. Most rail guns employ powerful currents — on the order of a million amps — to produce great force because long rails provide design issues. The projectile accelerates to the end of the rails opposite the power source while being influenced by the Lorentz force, where it leaves through an aperture. Current no longer flows since the circuit is broken.

In order to fire projectiles at speeds of Mach 5 or greater, rail guns need to have extremely strong currents. Because the propulsion system of a typical battleship cannot be switched, this causes issues. This form of current generation will be achievable in the all-electric DD(X), the Navy's next-generation battleship. Power from the ship's engine would be switched to the gun turret in order to fire a rail gun projectile. As long as it was necessary, the gun would continue to fire up to six shots each minute. The engine would then regain control after that.