If you’re unfamiliar, a railgun is a type of weapon that uses electricity instead of explosive material to fire a projectile. Leveraging a phenomenon called the Lorentz Force, railguns work by delivering a high power electric pulse to a pair of conductive rails, which in turn generates a magnetic field and rapidly accelerates the bullet situated between them.
With enough power, the Navy’s gun can hurl a 23-pound projectile over 100 miles at speeds of up to Mach 7 (roughly 1.5 miles per second). This is significant because at these speeds, the projectile still has enough kinetic energy to do a great deal of damage at long distances, so it doesn’t require any kind of explosive payload to destroy a target. For this reason, railgun “bullets” are considerably less expensive than what the Navy currently uses. Each projectile costs about $25,000 — roughly 1/100th the price of a conventional missiles.
The Navy has been working on the railgun prototype behind closed doors for the better part of a decade now, but this July it plans to hold the first public display of the technology at San Diego Naval Base.
“The American public has never seen it,” said Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, in a recent press conference. “Frankly, we think it might be the right time for them to know what we’ve been doing behind closed doors in a Star Wars fashion,” he said. “It’s now reality. It’s not science fiction. It’s real and you can look at it.”
Between 2005 and 2011, the Navy spent $250 million on the effort, and officials say they expect to invest the same amount between 2012 and 2017. Check out the video below to see it in action.
[image via U.S. Navy]