U.S. Navy Testing Shiny New 32-Megajoule Railgun Prototype

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More than anything, the ambition of the military's top scientists has to be admired. From advanced remote-controlled robots to sonic cannons to laser beams, weaponized combat is starting to look less like Call of Duty and more like the Halo franchise. Now, the U.S. Navy is taking a bold step into the explosive future with electricity, or more specifically, massive electromagnetic railguns.

Wired UK and Gizmag bring news that BAE Systems' multi-year EM railgun project is finally in more advanced testing stages, with a brand-new prototype that can fire a payload more than eight times faster than the speed of sound. For context, Wired UK tells it to us in impressive-yet-frightening numerical detail.

Electromagnetic railguns uses electricity instead of chemicals (like gunpowder) to propel projectiles. Magnetic fields, created by high electrical currents, accelerate a sliding metal conductor between two rails to launch projectiles at 7,200 km/h to 9,000 km/h... The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to fire projectiles 50- to 100-nautical miles (with expansion up to 220 nautical miles), which would be suitable for naval surface fire support, land strikes, cruise and ballistic missile defence, and surface warfare.

Of course, that's not going to be the only ridiculously explosive futuristic cannon on the block, as defense contractor General Atomics is already hard at work prepping a second railgun prototype for the U.S. Navy. Right now, the major hurdle preventing American battleships from toting these babies is the packaging. Not only does BAE's current model take too much time to reload, but the gun gets way too hot to sustain a decent firing rate.

At its current state, though, the 32-megajoule output is pretty advanced by modern technological standards. As The Register helpfully explains, just a single megajoule represents a ton of energy, equivalent to the force of a car traveling at a 100 miles per hour. Packing 32 times that much power into an electrically-charged cannon requires a lot of exterior casing and active cooling, which largely contributes to the weapon's immense bulk.

For the time being, if you happen to live close to Dahlgren, Virginia, don't be alarmed if you hear Earth-shaking, apocalyptic explosions now and then. It's probably just the Naval Surface Warfare Center playing with their new toy. Invest in soundproofing.

[Office of Naval Research via Gizmag, The Register, Wired UK; Image via U.S. Navy]

McKinley Noble is a former GamePro staff editor, current technology nerd and eternal mixed martial arts enthusiast. He also likes Japanese sports dramas and soap operas. Follow him on Twitter or just Google his name.

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