The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Electromagnetic Rail Gun (EMRG)

The use of a rail gun for the U.S. Navy has been considered for some time, but even more so now with the advent of the all-electric ship. There are still several factors that hinder its adoption as a viable weapon for naval surface ships. One important requirement for the implementation of a naval rail gun would be a firing rate or at least 6 rounds per minute with a barrel life of approximately 3000 rounds. At this point in time, this operation is not feasible because of rail erosion caused at the projectile rail interface. The conditions within the barrel for high-velocity launch of a multi-kilogram projectile are extreme. They can reach 10,000 atmospheres pressures, megampere currents, and tensof kilo gees acceleration. The barrel must withstand these conditions for up to several rounds per minutefor thousands of shots without failure or significant degradation. These parameters are well beyond the state of the art in materials science.

The U.S. Navy plans to install and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun aboard a joint high speed vessel in fiscal year 2016, the service announced 07 April 2014. This test will mark the first time an electromagnetic railgun (EM railgun) has been demonstrated at sea, symbolizing a significant advance in naval combat. "Energetic weapons, such as EM railguns, are the future of naval combat," said Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, the chief of naval research. "The U.S. Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology."

This demonstration is the latest in a series of technical maturation efforts designed to provide an operational railgun to the fleet. Since 2005, the Navy and its partners in industry and academia have been testing railgun technology at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., and the Naval Research Lab where the service has a number of prototype systems.

The final operational system will be capable of launching guided, multi-mission projectiles to a range of 110 nautical miles against a wide range of threats. The series of tests are designed to capture lessons for incorporation into a future tactical design and will allow the Navy to best understand needed ship modifications before fully integrating the technology.

The Navy is using JHSV as a vessel of opportunity because of its available cargo and topside space and schedule flexibility. Because JHSVs are non-combatants, there is no plan to permanently install a railgun on any ship of the class. A final decision has not been made on which ship classes will receive a fully operational railgun.

The Department of the Navys science and technology corporate board chartered the Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) construct to foster game-changing and disruptive technologies ahead of the normal requirements process. The Electromagnetic Railgun INP was initiated in 2005. The goal during Phase I is a proof-of-concept demonstration at 32 mega-joule muzzle energy has been achieved. This launch energy has the advantage of being able to stress many components to evaluate full-scale mechanical and electromagnetic forces. Phase I was focused on the development of launcher technology with adequate service life, development of reliable pulsed power technology and component risk reduction for the projectile.

Phase II, which started in 2012, aims to advance the technology for transition to an acquisition program. Phase II technology efforts will concentrate on demonstrating a rep-rate fire capability. Thermal management techniques required for sustained firing rates will be developed for both the launcher system and the pulsed power system.

Electric drives on future US Navy ships will make possible significant advances in ship design, fuel efficiency, and numerous shipboard systems, including innovative weapon systems. One such weapon system is the electromagnetic rail gun (EMRG), which uses electricity, rather than chemical propellants, to launch projectiles at long-range targets. The EMRG is one in a family of the Office of Naval Research's Innovative Naval Prototypes (INPs). An INP is characterized by high-risk, high-payoff technologies. If successful, an INP will lead to significant advances in Navy or Marine Corps capabilities.

The launcher (barrel) contains a pair of metal conducting rails embedded in a structure made of composite materials. Very strong opposing magnetic fields are generated within the launcher by a high current pulse that flows through the rails and a bridging armature positioned behind the projectile when the rail gun is fired. These fields create a propulsive force that accelerates the armature and projectile out of the barrel. The GPS-guided projectile will exit the launcher at approximately 2500 meters/second. On the way to its target, the projectile would leave the Earth's atmosphere, making it less susceptible to jamming or interception, and minimizing interference with friendly aircraft upon re-entry into airspace.

When operational, the EMRG will provide high-volume, precise, and time-critical fires in all-weather conditions. The goal of the Office of Naval Research rail gun project is to develop and smoothly transition prototype system that can deliver fires with high accuracy and lethality at distances greater than 200 nautical miles. The rounds will contain little or no high explosive material. Instead, they will inflict damage bway of high-velocity impact. With no explosives or propellants, the logistics of supporting the weapon will be simplified and crew and shsafety will be enhanced.

Railguns provide a capability for sustained, offensive power projection, complementary to missiles and tactical aircraft. Railguns may be a cost-effective solution to the Marine Corps Naval Surface Warfare Support future assault requirements for expeditionary maneuver warfare because of their unique capability to simultaneously satisfy three key warfighting objectives: (1) extremely long ranges; (2) short time-of-flight; and (3) high lethality (energy-on-target).

One important distinction between railguns and propellant-based guns is the difference in muzzle velocity. The 5-inch/54and 5-inch/62guns of today achieve muzzle velocities of approximately 800 m/s. In contrast, a railgun can accelerate a projectile to hypersonic velocities of 2500 m/s or Mach 7 and greater, enabling more that 200 nautical mile ranges within a six-minute time of flight. Such high muzzle velocities preclude the need for post-launch rocket-assist to achieve extended ranges. In an indirect fire mode, the projectile flight profile is predominantly exo-atmospheric, reducing the deconfliction problem and potential for Global Positioning System jamming.

However, railguns could also be used in a direct fire mode against surface targets, with only seconds from time of launch to impact. A notional 15 kg railgun flight body arrives on target with a 1500 m/s or Mach 5 terminal velocity, which equates to 17 MJ of available kinetic energy. This is about twice the kinetic energy available from a conventional 5-inch KE warhead from a projectile at half the weight.

The amount of power required for a railgun depends on the rate of fire. With an expected 80 megawatts of installed electrical power, electric warships such as the DDG-1000 will have ample power to supply a railgun with the 15-30 MW necessary for sustained fires at 6-12 rounds per minute.

Key tasks are the development of a launcher, rail gun modeling and simulation toolset, GPS-guided projectile, pulse power system, and integration into a yet-to-be-determined ship class. As of 2005 100-shot bore demonstration was planned for 2011 and a long-range integrated system demonstration is planned for 2015. A fully functioning weapon system aboard a deployable ship is planned in the 2020-25 timeframe.

The Naval Research Advisory Committee was asked in May 2003 to conduct an assessment of the current maturity of electromagnetic (EM) gun technology for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development & Acquisition). Specifically, the Committee was tasked to: review and assess the technical and operational performance capabilities necessary to achieve a militarily effective EM gun system for naval application; review the current and anticipated state of the technology and provide an assessment of the performance, manufacturability and maintainability of an EM gun system; and evaluate the technical and developmental risks in producing a projectile that will perform throughout the mission profile, i.e., launch to precision impact on target.

The United States Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) Panel on Electromagnetic (EM) Gun Technology Group Study from June 2003 to February 2004, concluded that while there were significant engineering challenges that must be overcome to produce an operational naval EM gun,there were no new technology issues to be solved. Additionally, the study panel provided a strawman roadmap that would enable the Department ofthe Navy to within four years have sufficient technical basis to decide whether or not to proceed with a development program that could becompleted in an additional four years.

The panel considered three types of electric gun: railguns, coil guns, and electrothermal guns. Electrothermal guns are the most like conventional guns they use electricity to control the burn rate of the round propelling charge. The principal attribute of this gun is more uniform acceleration of the round. Since the performance is only marginally better than a conventional gun, electrothermal guns cannot satisfy Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) range requirements. Of the three EM gun concepts, only the railgun has demonstrated launch velocities in the 2 to 3 km/sec range. The coil gun may have potential, but it is far less mature than the railgun. Very little effort had gone into developing coil guns, and in any case this approach appear to lack the railguns war fighting or growth potential.

The weight and volume envelopes allocated to the Advanced Gun System (AGS) provide a railgun capable of putting lethal fires on targets more than 200 nm from the ship, and accommodating more than 2400 rounds of non-explosive ammunition can be developed and fielded. Advances in railgun and projectile materials, designs, and guidance capabilities all combine to enable the Navy to achieve this capability.

The EM gun is the only alternative to expensive missiles or Tactical Air if the Fleet is to support the Marines in Ship-to-Objective Maneuver (STOM). STOM requires ranges in excess of 135 nm. No conventional gun can achieve that range. Furthermore, the railgun offers other attractive options. It would permit gunners to select from a new range of warheads appropriate to different target or different missions cubes for volume fire, a unitary warhead for hard target, kinetic energy kill, etc. It would also increase usable magazine capacity by 3-5 times the number of rounds over what a ship armed with AGS could carry. Railgun ammunition also offers the prospect of simpler and safer handling and storage. In direct fire applications, including missile defense, anti-ship, and asymmetrical or counter-swarm roles, the railgun should be far more effective than CIWS in terms of projectile pattern and velocity.

The ability to launch a 15kg projectile at velocities around 2.5 km/sec provides a means to deliver lethal power on target at ranges in excess of 200 nm and at terminal velocities greater than 1.5 km/sec. This coupled with a robust GPS/INS system that is capable of withstanding the launch loads and flight environment will provide a means to deliver lethal volume and precision fire support from the sea to fixed, hard, soft, or mobile targets.

With EM gun barrels there had been a limited number of firings on any given barrel. While there had been significant progress in rail materials, sabot-projectiles designs, and other barrel innovations, an effort to clearly demonstrate barrel durability had not been but must be executed.

A disadvantage of the conventional rail-gun is that arcing and heating may occur between the armature and rails. Maintaining good electrical contact between the armature and the rails over the entire length of the rails without causing too much friction is a serious problem that has impeded rail gun development to date. If the contact between the armature and rails is too tight, friction slows the armature, metal fusion occurs, and degrades projectile velocity. If the contact between the armature and rails is too loose, arcing occurs. Significant damage to the rails can occur due to the friction of the armature, metal fusion, and arcing.

Since the armature must be in constant physical contact and electrical conductivity with the rails to let electric current flow as the armature is being launched, large amounts of heat are generated between the moving armature and the rails which burns the rails thereby causing significant and rapid wear of the rails. Although the rails are firmly anchored, under the application of very high current such as one million amps the rails will move a very little amount. That very little movement creates a little gap in the contact between the armature and the rails, and the little gap causes arcing which creates the tremendous heat that destroys the rails. Thus, conventional rail guns can only be used for a single operation or a small number of applications due to the damage to the rails caused by launching of the armature.

Damage to the rails results in limited life for the EMRG rails necessitating replacement of the rails. The rail erosion is the driving limitation to rail gun robustness in that current rail life is insufficient. The rail erosion is caused by rail/armature interaction at high temperature, resulting in pitting, grooving, and wearing of the rail. The erosion of the rail contributes to the increase in arcing which leads to further degradation of the conducting rails.

Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) # 05-003 was issued by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Code 351, in cooperation with the US Army, Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (ARDEC), as part of a collaborative effort. Specific Research Areas of Interest include (but are not limited to): Weapons systems research with applications of direct and indirect fire, in medium to large calibers bore sizes (1 inch to 6 inches, or 25mm to 155mm), such as those relating to accelerating a launch package by using Electromagnetic (EM) Rail Gun technologies to velocities greater than those typically considered feasible with conventional energetic gun propellants. Examples of these technologies may include pulse forming networks, integrated launch package and/or projectile component research and development, and launcher research and development. For reference, typical kinetic energy levels for proposals under the technical efforts are expected to be between two (2) and sixty-four (64) mega-joules.

The objective of the Electromagnetic launch, delivery, and lethality S&T Program is to develop and demonstrate technologies that contribute to: (1) the neutralization of threat targets by increasing probability of kill in all scenarios, including countering enemy troops, emplacements, tanks, and artillery, (2) providing the ability to conduct long range strike engagements from off shore assets, (3) providing weapon-target matching/pairing studies, (4) and reducing costs.

Launcher research is currently focused on the three mechanisms known to cause damage when accelerating high-speed launches of projectiles inside a gun bore: 1) excessive heating of the rail/armature interface; 2) hypervelocity gouging of rails by the passage of the armature; and 3) erosion of rails near the muzzle at projectile exit from the barrel. In these cases, increases to the launcher life over the currently demonstrated state of the art - for high speed Integrated Launch Package acceleration of the resulting lethal projectile is necessary.

Research and engineering issues which are desired to be immediately addressed as part of a notional launcher design, build, and test effort might be expected to include but are not limited to barrel issues of a)Method of assembly, b) Bore compression pressure, c) Stability of bore compression, d) Bore straightness, dimensional stability and overall barrel assembly stability, e) Rigidity for slewing, or training of gun barrel from mount, f) Barrel Electromagnetic Interference(EMI) and muzzle arc or blast management, and g) ILP-induced dynamic effects. Similarly, issues for Breech power feed might include concepts for a) Interleaved compact breech assembly, b) Flexible cables or slip ring for recoil and traverse of the mounted barrel, c) Breech swing arc in degrees (0 to plus/minus 360 degrees,) and d) Recoil management. Also, technical approaches relating to maintenance and repair, such as a) ability access to examine components in the field or at sea, and b) issues addressing lifetime component replacement needs are of great interest.

With respect to pulsed power technologies, two approaches are currently being considered to produce the high current pulses required over short time frames to accelerate the projectile primarily by magnetic Lorenz force generation. First, by developing pulsed alternator technology as the main energy storage device and second - high energy, dense capacitor storage. Because the Army is focused on a direct fire weapon mounted in an armored vehicle, the greatest technical challenge is achieving significantly higher energy and power densities. For the Navy, lower power densities are typically required, but over longer sustained rates of fire with requirements for quick recharging the pulse forming network from naval ship power is required to fulfill NSFS applications where gains in response time, range and magazine capacity provide new capabilities desired under the Naval Sea Power 21 objectives for Sea Strike and Sea Shield missions. Keen interest is noted for similar design methods, however differing technologies may be needed due to the disparate power requirements for the individual service mission requirements.

With respect to integrated launch packages (ILP's), the primary issue is to accelerate a projectile within the launcher, and maintain delivery of lethal performance. The performance of the electromagnetic armature, the sabot, and the projectile as one unit within the barrel is crucial. For longer ranges, guidance is required and includes critical survivability of projectile electronics through the high Gee acceleration profile, when high fluxing electromagnetic environments exist. After launch, Aero-stability, aero-thermal heating, effective and survivable guidance and control, and lethality issues will be crucial to determine feasibility of an EM weapon for both short direct and longer range indirect fire support missions.

The near term collaborative program will focus on the identification of technical objectives, quantified technical barriers, and enabling technologies associated with development of the objective EM gun systems. Academic and Commercial Industry collaborative ventures are requested to identify themselves and show the extents of their agreements as clearly and completely as possible. And while other complementary technologies may exist for other applications, and may be acceptable for risk reduction purposes, only those applications with a clearly defined relation to direct and indirect gun fire systems are under consideration in this announcement and are expected to be considered for award.

For purposes of clarity, direct fire engagements are typically considered line of sight (LOS) or near line of sight (NLOS). Engagements are from one to forty (1-40) kilometers in range and can be either defensive or offensive in nature and depending on application include a mix of fix and moving air, sea surface or land targets. Indirect fire, or non-line of sight for cannon (NLOS-C) or naval artillery systems, are typically distances starting from hundreds (100's) of kilometers or more and primary interest currently is in land based targets mobile or fixed target sets. The envisioned systems and potential solutions will help meet the needs of each of the Military Departments future war fighting needs and, in so doing, identify opportunities for development of common components or subsystems.

By early 2005 work had commenced on construction of the new test launcher facility at Dahlgren, VA and technical development work continued at various sites including Kirkcudbright, Scotland and the Institute for Advanced Technology at University of Texas (Austin). The Army began research in 1985 to develop a mobile, ground-based electromagnetic system capable of defeating future armored combat vehicles. It is the refurbished SDI launcher that was installed at NSWC Dahlgren, while the program awaited delivery in June 2007 of a gun being built by BAE Systems. The new gun is a "laboratory" version with removable rails that weighs in at 40 tons.

The next generation of naval guns was launched Oct. 2, 2006, with the successful test and stand up of an electromagnetic (EM) railgun facility at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Laboratory. Under the auspices of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), engineers at the laboratory fired a low energy shot, the first in a series of tests required to bring the facility online. Using a 90 mm bore launcher with a copper rail and a power plant capable of delivering 8 mega joules (MJ) of muzzle energy, a 2.4kg projectile was fired at 830 m/s, yielding an energy of 0.8 MJ. With the potential to deliver lethal, hypersonic projectiles at ranges in excess of 200 nautical miles within six minutes, a naval railgun offers a transformational solution for volume fires and time-critical strike. Understanding the technical dimensions of ships, ship systems and weapons, allows the Navy to deliver innovative and affordable capability to the nationd. As part of ONR's electromagnetic railgun program, the stored energy, launcher and terminal area was to be increased in size to accommodate a 32MJ muzzle energy gun by fiscal year 2009. This facility provided the first steps toward the envisioned tactical Navy system of 64MJ of muzzle energy.

There are a number of things the Navy still doesn't know how to do. How is it possible to shoot more than about three or four rounds out of an EM rail gun before having to change the barrel? How is it possible to build the kind of pulse forming networks that are needed to be able to shoot not direct fire weapons, but 200 mile indirect fire weapons? There is a lot of potential that a capability like EM rail gun could bring. But there are many risk to EM rail gun.

BAE states that the maximum rate of fire for HVP is 20 rounds per minute from a Mk 45 5-inch gun, 10 rounds per minute from the 155mm gun on DDG-1000 class destroyers (called the Advanced Gun System, or AGS), and 6 rounds per minute from EMRG.

We thought railguns were something we were really going to go after, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated in May 2016, but it turns out that powder guns firing the same hypervelocity projectiles gets you almost as much as you would get out of the electromagnetic railgun, but its something we can do much faster.

The resiliency of the gun, the barrel, the ability for multiple fires without having to replace the barrel, the projectiles, the pulsed power units, the size of the pulsed power units, the size of the batteries, all those things are getting smaller [and] are getting more efficient,HASC chairman Rep. Rob Wittman told National Defense in June 2017.

The U.S. NAVY PROGRAM GUIDE 2017 stated "The Railgun INP is in the second phase of a two-phase development effort. INP Phase I (FY 2005-2011) successfully advanced foundational enabling technologies and explored, through analysis and war gaming, the railguns multi-mission utility. Launcher energy was increased by a factor of five to the system objective muzzle energy of 32 mega joules (110 nautical miles range) and barrel life was increased from tens of shots to hundreds of shots [emphasis added]. Two contractors delivered tactical-style advanced containment launchers proving the feasibility of composite wound launchers. Pulsed power size was cut in half while thermal management for firing rate (rep-rate) was added to the design. INP Phase II focuses on increasing rep-rate capability. Rep-rate adds new levels of complexity to all of the railgun sub-systems, including thermal management, autoloader, and energy storage. A new test facility capable of supporting rep-rate testing at full energy level is coming on line at the Terminal Range at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia. A new demonstration launcher (DL1) has been delivered and installed at the Terminal Range to commission the new facility. Additional rep-rate composite launchers (RCLs) capable of rep-rate are in various stages of design and fabrication. "

On 17 November 2017, along the Potomac River at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA, a new 32-megajoule railgun built by BAE Systems opened fire for the first time. A second railgun was set up at the Armys White Sands Missile Range, where theres enough space to fire the weapon at its maximum range of more than a hundred nautical miles. The Dahlgren team initially made multiple shots per hour as they worked out the bugs, and by the end of the year they expected to reach the goal of 10 shots per minute. For comparison, a standard 5-inch deck gun can fire 20 rounds a minute.

SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR. reported on May 19, 2017 "With new materials better able to endure the intense stresses, the barrels on the current test weapons can last for hundreds of shots before requiring replacement roughly how long a battleships 16-inch barrels lasted back in World War II. The goal is a barrel that lasts 1,000 rounds."

Over a year later, this challenge seemed unsolved. Ronald O'Rourke, CRS Specialist in Naval Affairs, reported 23 October 2018 that "Remaining development challenges for EMRG involve items relating to the gun itself (including increasing barrel life to desired levels), the projectile, the weapons electrical power system, and the weapons integration with the ship... "

Railguns face two types of problems : engineering problems, and physics problems. Engineering problems, such as the size of pulse power units, are engineering problems that can be resolved with suitable applications of time and money. Physics problems, such as barrel life, are rather less amen able to such brute force solutions, and are the reason that not everything that can be described can be built, or built in a useful form.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-01-2019 10:33:32 ZULU