Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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US Navy Railguns Ideal for Shore Bombardment and Surface Combat

The future

(Photo : General Atomics) Blitzer electromagnetic railgun

Once they become operational on major U.S. Navy surface warships, electromagnetic railguns will resurrect the navy's long-dormant capability to bombard land targets using large caliber guns -- but with more accuracy, lethality and from far longer ranges.

Such is the faith the navy places in the railgun and in the special hypervelocity projectiles (HVPs) a railgun can fire from as far away as 185 km, a range that might reach 480 km in future versions of the railgun.

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The terrific speed attained by an HVP round -- Mach 6 or 7,400 km/h -- also means railguns can be used as anti-aircraft guns to shoot down jets, cruise missiles and drones from very long-range.

The main gun armament on navy warships consists of either 127 mm or 155 mm guns. The former arms the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, while the latter is deployed aboard the navy's newest destroyer, the Zumwalt-class, which will be the first warships outfitted with railguns.

Big guns for shore bombardment were last used aboard navy warships during the Vietnam War. Its role has since been taken over by long-range cruise missiles that can attack both maritime and land targets.

The navy is moving ahead in developing the next iteration of its electromagnetic railgun that can destroy supersonic targets such as cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Currently configured as a short bombardment weapon to ease the path for an invading force of U.S. Marines assaulting an enemy coast, railguns can deliver HVPs to a distance of over 185 km in this role.

The navy is also testing the ability of a railgun firing HVPs to hit surface warships beyond the horizon. Because they streak towards a target at speeds of up to Mach 6, railgun-fired HVPs can destroy targets much faster than existing long-range weapons.

This advantage also makes HVPs ideal for intercepting incoming cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. Using GPS technology will make it possible for the railgun to destroy moving targets with guided HVP rounds.

A railgun generates 1,200 volts in a 10 millisecond timeframe, enough to accelerate a mass of 20 kg from zero to 8,000 km/h in one one-hundredth of a second, said the navy.

HVPs tear towards a target at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The rate of fire from a railgun is 10 rounds per minute. HVPs destroys a target with massive hammer blows of kinetic energy.

HVP rounds can also be stored in large numbers on navy warships. HVPs cost only $25,000 per round.

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