The Navy is revamping its Mk 45 deck-mounted 5-inch guns to enhance near-term combat performance while also exploring long-range, hypervelocity projectiles for the guns in the future.
The Office of Naval Research is currently conducting a Future Naval Capabilities program to mature hypervelocity projectile technologies that support range extension of 5-inch gun capabilities, Colleen O'Rourke, Naval Sea Systems Command spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
"This effort could potentially transition to a development program; initial studies are being assessed," she added.
Upgraded Mk 45 guns can, when fired from Navy cruisers and destroyers, not only attack surface and land targets but also, as technology evolves, increasingly attack enemy drones, helicopters, or even incoming enemy missiles.
The guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56) fires its MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun during a weapons training exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan U. Kledzik)
In existence since the 70s, Navy 5-inch gun weapons can be used to attack enemy targets or lay down suppressive fire so that maritime forces can better maneuver or reposition while in battle.
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However, current 5-inch guns, called Mk 45, have a maximum effective range of up to 13 or 15 miles, and the current rounds are unguided and lack precision, so many rounds need to be fired in order to ensure that targets are destroyed.
Updates to the Mk 45 Mod 4 configuration, awarded to BAE Systems by the Navy, include a structurally strengthened gun mount and more advanced electronics.
"With its stronger mount, the gun can achieve 50 percent higher firing energy, allowing munitions or projectiles to travel faster and farther. Its new fully digitized control system also provides significantly greater computing power and features a touch-screen user interface," a BAE Systems statement said.
Meanwhile, Navy officials say the future-oriented program is leveraging commercial electronics miniaturization and computational performance increases to develop a common guided projectile for use in current 5-inch guns and future high-velocity gun systems. The HVP effort will seek to increase range and accuracy of the 5-Inch Gun Weapon System in support of multiple mission areas, service developers told Warrior.
Particle debris ignites as a test slug exits the Office of Naval Research 32 MJ Electromagnetic Railgun laboratory launcher located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (US Navy)
Developed initially for an Electromagnetic Rail Gun next-generation weapon, a Hyper Velocity Projectile, or HVP, is now being examined for a range of additional applications. The HVP can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second when fired from a Rail Gun, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons.
The rate of fire is 10-rounds per minute. Also, due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary.
Development of the HVP projectile can take place apart from its use in an actual Rail Gun, as is the case with efforts to adapt it to Navy 5-inch guns.
While the precise speed, range and rate of fire for a HVP fired from Navy 5-inch guns may still be a work in progress, the use of the projectile brings the possibility of a number of unprecedented combat advantages.
Using a HVP for 5-inch guns such as an increased ability to quickly attack long range targets. The speed of the HVP could naturally give Commanders a better opportunity to make real-time, combat-relevant decisions by virtue of being able to hit targets farther away at faster speeds. The projectile could be fired for both offensive and defensive missions, attacking enemy anti-ship missiles, land targets or ships.
A kinetic energy hypervelocity warhead also lowers the cost and the logistics burden of the weapon, Navy developers explained.
Although it has the ability to intercept cruise missiles, the hypervelocity projectile can be stored in large numbers on ships. Unlike other larger missile systems designed for similar missions, the hypervelocity projectile costs only $25,000 per round, officials said.
The HVP effort is in keeping with existing Pentagon strategy which aims to harness promising emerging technologies and integrate them with existing weapons systems; the concept is designed to take advantage of next-generation weapons technology on a faster timeframe by connecting them with existing systems, instead of waiting years for a developmental program to mature. This concept informed former Defense Secretary Ash Carter's creation of the Strategic Capabilities Office.
In fact, the SCO has also test firing the HVP from an Army Howitzer to leverage the technical and combat advantage of the projectile in near term operational scenarios.