Railguns used to a work of fiction, propelling weapons on mecha suits and spaceships to fight aliens and space pirates. This changed several years ago now when BAE systems revealed a working railgun, and even more recently people started working on handheld railguns. With the original plan to mount a test railgun on the joint high-speed vessels (JHSV) this year, it comes as a surprise that there may be a rail gun in operational use before even that.
The Lyndon B Johnson, the last of three Zumwalt-class destroyers that are looking at deployment in 2018, is rumoured to be the first ship that will carry a functional railgun. The concept of a rail gun is to use magnetic charges to propel objects at high speeds without the need for explosive charges. This reduces the cost and the size of projectiles while also reducing the risk of transporting explosive materials everywhere.
The Zumwalt class of destroyers are designed for attacking land-based targets, so firing giant blocks of metal at supersonic speeds sounds like a starting point for them. The U.S. Navy’s director of surface warfare, Pete Fanta, even mused that “it’s engineering at this point, it’s no longer science”.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, catch the minute long clip of a rail gun below and realise just how far we’ve come in making those mecha-suits a reality.