The Navy has been testing a railgun that could see deployment on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt and her sister ships. The goal is to get the railgun to not only be able to fire its projectiles to a range of 110 nautical miles, but to increase the rate of fire to as many as ten rounds a minute.
The long range is only one of the many advantages. Another is improved safety. Gunpowder can be very volatile, as a number of British battlecruisers found out at Jutland and at the Denmark Straits. The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) also found out about how bad a gunpowder explosion in the wrong place at the wrong time can be.
The British battlecruiser HMS Hood was sunk when her magazines exploded in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. (Wikimedia Commons)
The approach also saves money, and provides for more ammo capacity. The gunpowder is expensive to safely store, has to be purchased, and it takes up spaces in the ship. All of those factors end up making the ship design more expensive.
The railgun testing is slated to take place over the summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia. One of the big issues will be to quantify how much electrical power will be needed to send the rounds downrange.
Forget what you saw in 2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" when an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer took out the Decepticon Devastator. Only the Zumwalt-class destroyers have the electrical power capacity to use a railgun.
U.S. Navy photo
Another is addressing the issue of barrel wear – largely because it is sending the mail downrange at Mach 6.
Dr. Tom Beutner of the Office of Naval Research notes that the barrel wear issue is being fixed, saying, "They've extended the launcher core life from tens of shots' core life when program started to something that's now been fired over 400 times and … we anticipate barrels will be able to do over 1,000 shots."
Watch the video of the Navy testing the railgun's autoloader below: