The 54-caliber, 5-inch naval artillery shells fired by Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are brutally efficient at destroying surface ships, aircraft, and land targets. But they're little more than pea shooters compared to the 6.1-inch rocket-propelled, GPS-guided shells shot by the new Zumwalt-class' Advanced Guns System.

The Advanced Gun System is the next generation of naval artillery designed by BAE Systems for use aboard the new Zumwalts when they launch in 2015. A pair of 155 mm caliber AGS will constitute the new destroyer's primary guns and are capable of firing up to ten rounds of precision munitions per minute through their water-cooled barrels. What's more, the system is entirely electric, although its massive 800 kW consumption severely limits which ships in the US fleet can incorporate them—at this point, only the three upcoming Zumwalts have the power supplies and space needed to support them but given the time and money BAE's sunk into their R&D, it's very likely they'll be adapted to future warships.

The destroyer's automated Intra-Ship Rearmament System (AIRS) handles reloading the guns using a series of 6,000-pound pallets, each holding eight propelling charges and eight 230-pound Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) shells, for a total magazine of 304 shots. Interestingly, while the AGS fires a 155mm projectile (which is pretty much standard for US field artillery) it can't actually fire normal Howitzer rounds, only LRAPs.

The Navy's Advanced Guns System Fires Rocket-Powered Artillery Shells

An LRAP is basically an 88-inch long rocket-propelled artillery shell with GPS-guidance. With a 24-pound blast-frag warhead, the LRAP is roughly equivalent to the M795 artillery shells used in modern M119 Howitzers, but it travels much further and much more accurately. Current naval 5-inch guns have a range of roughly 13 nautical miles, the new AGS can heave an LRAP more than 59 nm. In fact, during flight testing, the munition accurately hit targets up to 100 nm, falling within a radius of less than 160 feet. Future iterations could even employ IR seeker heads—you know, to better shoot down planes and such. [Wikipedia 1, 2 - Defense Industry Daily - Lockheed Martin - LRAP Image: Lockheed]