Updated 9:12 AM EST, Tue, Jan 05, 2021

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US Navy Moves Closer to Perfecting Railguns that Fire 10 Rounds per Minute

10 rpm

(Photo : BAE Systems) Railgun from BAE Systems.

The U.S. Navy's Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Virginia is testing a new 32 megajoule (MJ) electromagnetic railgun built by Britain's largest defense firm, BAE Systems, plc, with the aim of making this weapon fire-off rounds in rapid succession.

Experimental railguns being tested have a paltry rate of fire of about a round a minute. The aim of both NSWC and BAE Systems is to build a 32 MJ railgun capable of firing non-explosive, kinetic energy rounds at a rate of 10 rounds per minute.

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Navy sources said the NSWC/BAE Systems team can now get its BAE Systems railgun to fire multiple shots per hour. The team expects to reach the goal of 10 rounds per minute by the end of this year.

Once they've reached the 10 rounds per minute rate, the NSWC/BAE Systems team will focus on increasing the railgun's barrel life. Experimental railguns often wore out their barrels with a single shot a decade ago.

Today, barrels on current test weapons last for hundreds of shots before needing replacement, thanks to new materials better able to endure the massive stresses of railgun firings.

A huge challenge is providing railguns with a continuous supply of electrical power. Current railguns fire a round weighing 16 kg at 2,000 meters per second. This effort requires 32 MJ of energy per shot.

Firing 10 rounds a minute requires 20 megawatts of power.

Unfortunately, the only warships in today's Navy that have sufficient energy to generate power on such a scale are the 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and the three Zumwalt-class destroyers.

The Electromagnetic Systems Group of General Atomics (GA-EMS) in May 2016 delivered a prototype of its pulse power containers (PPC) for it's the railgun its developing.

The U.S. Navy is evaluating two EM railgun models. One is a 32 MJ prototype built by BAE Systems. The other is the 32 MJ Blitzer developed by GA-EMS.

GA-EMS has developed, built and successfully tested two railguns: the internally funded the Blitzer 3 MJ system and a 32 MJ launcher for the Office of Naval Research.

PPCs are huge banks of capacitors or rechargeable batteries packed inside standard ISO containers. Each container has enough energy to discharge 18 kilowatts for each railgun round.

To enable the railgun to fire 10 shots per minute, the PPC must recharge from the host ship in seconds. It must also be able to store and discharge the energy in very short time while managing the thermal load generated by the process.

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