Graphic shows how an electromagnetic railgun works.
GN40836

MILITARY

Futuristic U.S. weapon in secret tests

By Ninian Carter

December 3, 2020 - The U.S. Navy is believed to be testing an experimental weapon called a “railgun” on the Potomac River in Virginia, closing miles of the waterway to boats and warning people to expect loud noises.

The U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) has issued a munitions testing warning to areas of the Potomac river in Virginia, closing large sections in the tidewater region to boat traffic and telling civilians to expect very loud noises.

The source of the explosive sounds is the same Railgun Building 1410 where the Navy first tested its $500 million experimental electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) in 2012.

Once the trope of science fiction, railguns use electricity to generate very strong electromagnetic fields between two rails, down the centre of which is accelerated a projectile at a velocity of around 7,200km per hour, or 2 kilometres a second.

The U.S. Navy has two railgun prototypes, one constructed by BAE Systems (rated at 32 megajoules of energy with a range of 160km) and the another by General Atomics (rated at 20 megajoules with a range of 80km).

The giant guns were first set up at NSWCDD in the early 2010s, with one being moved to the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico in early 2019. It is likely the Navy is testing the remaining gun again or it has built a new prototype, possibly one with a range of 400km, as was hinted at in a 2014 NASA report.

China is ahead of the U.S. in railgun development with one spotted mounted on a retired landing craft on the Yangtze River in 2018. The ship, dubbed the "Yangtze Sea Monster", appeared in open seas later that year, with a fully operational Chinese railgun expected to be at sea by 2025.

PUBLISHED: 04/12/2020; STORY: Graphic News
Graphic News Standards