America’s greatest gift to the world is not its Peace Corps or its advanced agriculture, medicine or technology. No! It’s armaments. Weapons sales by the US tripled to a record high of US$66.3 billion in 2012, the Congressional Research Service said in its most recent annual report. The US accounts for nearly 78 per cent of all global arms sales, which rose to $85.3 billion in 2011, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
On Monday August 4, 2014, at a Washington, D.C. press conference, the U.S. Navy announced plans for a second set of sea-bound trials for a weapon that can fire a low-cost, 23-pound (10-kg) projectile which moves at seven times the speed of sound using electromagnetic energy. This newfangled ‘Star Wars’ technology, much of it the result of experiments originally carried out in the gravity-free environment of space over the past 30 years is hot stuff. Indeed, the genesis of this particular technology, Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, the chief of Naval Research told the New York Daily News, is a result of NASA’s scientific research during the Apollo era.
This futuristic electromagnetic rail gun having already undergone extensive testing on land, will be mounted on the USNS Millinocket, a high-speed vessel, for sea trials in 2016, “It will help us in air defense, it will help us in cruise missile defense, it will help us in ballistic missile defense. We’re also talking about a gun that’s going to shoot a projectile that’s about one one-hundredth of the cost of an existing missile system today,” said Klunder.
Nothing gets the ear of the gentlemen who run Congress and the Senate better than a military scientist offering up dollops of low-budget military mayhem that can ease the U.S. national debt, which, depending where you do the research, is approximately $7 trillion. Everybody everywhere, wants to own American weapons technology. Consider this, $25,000 for a railgun projectile versus $500,000 to $1.5 million for a missile. It will make potential enemies think twice about the economic viability of engaging U.S. forces and allies reconsider purchasing weaponry from countries with unreliable currencies like France, Israel, the UK, and the Russian Federation. All this at a time when U.S. officials have voiced concerns that tight defense budgets could cause the Pentagon to lose its technological edge over China, Russia and other rivals, who have been developing anti-ship ballistic missile systems and integrated air defenses capable of challenging the U.S.
Projectiles fired from a railgun move with a muzzle energy of about 32 megajoules of force. A single megajoule will move a stationary one-ton object at about 100 mph at a speed of Mach 7. Ships which carry just dozens of missiles, could instead be loaded with hundreds of railgun projectiles, said Rear Admiral Bryant Fuller, the Navy’s chief engineer.
“That will give our adversaries a huge moment of pause,” Klunder told reporters. “You could throw anything at us, frankly, and the fact that we now can shoot a number of these rounds at a very affordable cost, it’s my opinion that they don’t win.”
Railguns use electromagnetic energy known as the Lorenz Force to launch a projectile between two conductive rails. The high-power electric pulse generates an ultra-intense magnetic field to fire the projectile with almost no recoil whatsoever. If you’ve ever fired a regular rifle, handgun or cannon, the notion of what a sublime difference-maker having very little recoil makes for a battlefield game-changer. Consequently, after rigorous testing, officials are planning on integrating the system into warships by 2018.
The U.S. Navy has funded two single-shot railgun prototypes already. One was the privately-owned General Atomics model, the other by BAE Systems. Klunder said he had selected BAE for the second phase of the project, which will look at developing a system capable of firing multiple shots in succession. “Your magazine never runs out, you just keep shooting, and that’s compelling.”
From where I’m sitting, this sounds like the understatement of all time.