Electromagnetic projectile weapons have been a favored storytelling tool of science fiction creators for decades, appearing in classic works from the likes of John Scalzi, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein to name but a few. These weapons, which are often referred to as railguns, use electromagnetic force to fire projectiles at incredible speeds allowing them to pierce through materials that would normally be impenetrable without the use of explosives. But, it’s not just sci-fi that has become enchanted by the destructive allure of these weapons. US military research specialists have been trying to develop real-life railguns for a number of years now, and as newly-released footage from the US Navy shows, they aren’t too far off from achieving their goal.
The footage documents the first open air firing of the US Navy’s Electromagnetic Railgun and it gives you an idea of the awesome punch the weapon can pack.
The test saw the railgun fire a non-lethal projectile (essentially a giant blank) at a speed approaching Mach 6 (4,600 mph). The incredible speed generated by the weapon means that its projectiles do not need explosive warheads and could, therefore, revolutionize long-range warfare. However, there are more than a few hurdles to overcome before it becomes battle-tested.
In its present form, the railgun requires an astonishing amount of power to fire each round. The new high-tech stealth ship, USS Zumwalt, is one of the few vessels with the capacity to power the railgun and is, therefore, considered as a likely home for it in the field. The weapon was expected to be tested at sea while on board the USNS Trenton at some point this year, but those tests have been delayed. Still, it might not be long before we see this piece of sci-fi-inspired technology deployed in a very real situation.