The “official explanation” is that this has been in development for years, but read this piece and I trust you’ll agree that we must have gotten it from the same cyborg time travelers who gave us the Stuxnet worm. Thanks, cyborgs — wherever you are.

For one thing, a railgun offers 2 to 3 times the velocity of a conventional big gun, so that it can hit its target within 6 minutes. By contrast, a guided cruise missile travels at subsonic speeds, meaning that the intended target could be gone by the time it reaches its destination.

Furthermore, current U.S. Navy guns can only reach targets about 13 miles away. The railgun being tested today could reach an enemy 100 miles away. And with current GPS guidance systems it could do so with pinpoint accuracy. The Navy hopes to eventually extend the range beyond 200 miles…

Admiral Carr, who calls the railgun a “disruptive technology,” said that not only would a railgun-equipped ship have to carry few if any large explosive warheads, but it could use its enemies own warheads against them. He envisions being able to aim a railgun directly at a magazine on an enemy ship and “let his explosives be your explosives.”

There’s also a cost and logistical benefit associated with railguns.
For example, a single Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $600,000. A non-explosive guided railgun projectile could cost much less.

The previous record during a test was a 10 megajoule firing; this one generated more than three times that amount of power. To put it in perspective, just one megajoule is equivalent to a small car hitting something at 100 mph. In other words, the term “railgun” is a misnomer: This thing is actually a space-age missile launcher whose projectiles not only fly much, much faster and farther than current missiles do, but as a result they hit with more force — even though there are no explosives involved. (An important safety advance, natch.) And best of all, they’re more cost-effective than current armaments. It’s a quantum leap that can save money and tremendously improve our strategic advantage on the seas, especially now that China’s developing missiles to target U.S. aircraft carriers. Which is why I expect the movement to cut the program or ban such weapons outright to begin in about five minutes.

Two clips for you here of the railgun in action. It won’t be ready for use on ships until 2025 or so, but if all goes according to plan, they’ll be able to squeeze off six to 12 rounds per minute. Exit question: Given those Shanghai test scores, won’t the Chinese have already built the Death Star by then?

Tags: China