BAE Delivers World's First 32-Megajoule Rail Gun (To the Good Guys)

Illustration for article titled BAE Delivers World's First 32-Megajoule Rail Gun (To the Good Guys)

Like every other red-blooded American boy, I enjoy the notion of propelling a piece of lead at up to Mach 8 and at "extreme" ranges. That's why I was glad to hear that BAE Systems has delivered a rail gun capable of such feats, and that the US Navy signed for the package.

Illustration for article titled BAE Delivers World's First 32-Megajoule Rail Gun (To the Good Guys)

A rail gun, to refresh your memory, is one that relies on precise and extremely juiced electromagnets to thrust the projectile, rather than ever increasing amounts of packed and wadded gunpowder or other fuel. Explosives are, after all, dangerous. On a ship, they either blow up or get wet, and either way that's just bad.


The device BAE Systems shipped to the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. is the 32-megajoule Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun (32-MJ LRG for short, but we'll call her "Julie"). It is about four times as strong as the last generation of rail guns, but demands 3 million amps of power per shot—enough to drain your Metal Gear's battery in a heartbeat. You'll notice the word "laboratory" stuck in there. Real-life rail guns have kinks that still need to be worked out:

Effective rail guns will require a major breakthrough in capacitor technology between now and 2020, as well as a way to keep the barrels from being shredded by each high-velocity shot.

Mind you, the Navy isn't like pissing its pants for joy that it gets to play with a 32-megajoule rail gun. This is America, after all. What the Navy really wants is a 64-megajoule rail gun. But since that might take 13 years and would require, yep, 6 million amps per shot, the Navy's gonna have to quit bitching and enjoy the toys it has, at least for now. [Popular Mechanics]

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Because it's a rail gun (as opposed to a coil gun), they aren't really traditional electromagnets, merely straight rods of metal current flows along, and you don't need a ferrous (or even ferromagnetic) projectile (in fact, it doesn't even need to be metallic, only capable to conducting huge currents with little resistance.) The mere act of current flowing in the right directions and pattern imparts kinetic energy on the projectile, with some fairly basic, though elegant, applications physics. Most of the people citing links to rail gun articles certainly already know this, but it seems like a number of people don't.

And yes, it is sad how many commenters, including, but not limited to TR3-A and POPE JOHN PEEPS II, seem incapable of looking at all the pretty pictures, much less reading the actual words in the article before posting comments attacking either the author, the government, or someone else for "non-existent" objects.

And Robotaks? Think about how many things on the average ship involve electrical mechanisms in some way (every light bulb, computer chip, electric motor, etc...). And yet, most ships don't suddenly short out the moment they go out to sea. While enough salt water in the wrong place would certainly be bad for a rail gun, one suspects they'll manage to keep the critical bits dry.