Depending on your proclivities, you’ll find the following either terrifying or incredibly awesome. The Navy has been experimenting with railguns for several years, and its latest iteration has tripled the previous record (set in 2008).
A railgun is a projectile device that, via a combination of electrical impulses and magnetic fields, can send a non-explosive projectile vast distances with excessive force. To (over)simplify it, they are extremely high-tech, high-efficiency cannons. In this case, the technology allows the projectiles being fired to break the speed of sound. This allows the gun to have a range of approximately 100 miles. To lend that some context, the Navy’s current artillery has a range of only 12 miles.
The current design fired a projectile at 33 megajoules. Megajoules are a way of measuring kinetic energy; the Navy’s railgun program manager, Roger Ellis, told Fox News a single megajoule is equivalent to a one-ton car traveling a hundred miles an hour. These devices are designed to put gigantic holes in enemy ships while simultaneously destroying enemy munitions in the process — causing damage of a previously unachievable scope.
Despite their potential, the weapons are still very much in a testing phase. Several shortcomings (excessive heat and force generated by the weapon are actually it’s own worst enemy — they can render the gun inoperable) prevent it from being used consistently in a combat situation. However, the Navy anticipates that these could be seen on warships in the next several years, possibly with even longer range and speed than what they are currently experimenting with.
Although the vast majority of railgun applications are military based, there are researchers who look at the basic technology as a new way of launching air or spacecraft. There are also railgun proponents who believe that modified devices could be instrumental in powering fusion reactors. Although these are still theoretical, the military’s advancements in the field could further these concepts.