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Railgun prototype being tested at Dahlgren


A second electromagnetic railgun launcher prototype is being tested at the Dahlgren Navy base.

General Atomics delivered the component for its version of the gun, which uses electromagnetic energy to fire a projectile, several weeks ago to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, according to the Office of Naval Research. BAE Systems Inc. delivered the first test launcher to Dahlgren in January.

“It’s exciting to see how two different teams are both delivering very relevant but unique launcher solutions,” railgun program manager Roger Ellis said in a news release.

“We’re evaluating and learning from both prototype designs, and we’ll be folding what we learn from the evaluations into the next phase of the program.”

Both companies are working on designs for the newest generation of Navy weapons.

Dahlgren’s firing range has been the site of several tests so far, including a 33-megajoule shot in December 2010—a record for an electromagnetic pulse. A megajoule is the energy equivalent of a 1-ton vehicle traveling at 100 mph.

The concept of a railgun is simple and was first envisioned in the 1860s, when electromagnetic field theory was developed. In the railgun, a pulse of electricity traveling along two parallel rails propels a projectile at up to 5,600 mph.

The launchers under development by BAE Systems and General Atomics are just one component.

The gun must be small enough to fit on a ship, yet powerful enough to deliver the million-plus-ampere jolt to fire a projectile way beyond the range of current Navy guns.

That will require an advanced battery power system and the ability to hit a moving target at a great distance.

The 5-inch guns currently on Navy ships have a range of about 15 miles and can fire 20 rounds per minute. As envisioned, the railgun would fire a 40-pound inert projectile up to 115 miles.

It would be able to take out an enemy ship, missile or target on land, using only kinetic energy. No explosives would be required.

The first test shot was in 2006 at Dahlgren, followed by a 10.6-megajoule shot in 2008 and the record 33-megajoule shot in 2010.

The Navy received about $240 million in funding for the initial phase of the railgun project, and about the same amount to carry the work through 2017.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431