by David Crane
The digital photos featured in this article are the exclusive property of DefenseReview.com. All photos were shot by Arnold Crane, Photographer.
The Univsersity of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Advanced Technology (IAT) Electromagnetic Systems Division showed off it’s electromagnetic rail gun (RailGun) technology demonstrator at the 24th Army Science Conference (ASC 2004), and DefenseReview was lucky enough to get to view it being fired. IAT’s demonstrator rail gun fired a lightweight aluminum projectile (approx. .45 caliber) through a soft target (cardboard or foam, I think) at high speed, and, well, it was pretty neat. Founded in 1990, IAT is an autonomous research unit tasked with aiding the U.S. Army and Navy with "basic an applied research in electrodynamics, hypervelocity physics, pulsed power, and education in related critical technologies". In other words, they research, build, and test electromagnetic RailGun tech for the Army and Navy.
the projectile velocity is so high that the kinetic energy will create all the destructive force you need. As an added bonus, you also need much less projectile mass–the projectile can be much lighter and smaller, and still achieve the same level of destructive force. Assuming that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), ARL (Army Research Laboratory) and NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) can overcome all of the inherent technological challenges and solve all the potential problems with elecromagnetic (EM) propulsion–like improving superconductivity of the gun rails and thus avoiding excessive heat and destruction of the gun upon firing and adequate power generation for the weapons system–America’s enemies will be in even bigger trouble than they already are.
The U.S. Navy plans to utilize EM rail guns on its DD(X) Destroyer. If successful, the DD(X) Destroyer will be a lethal combination of stealth technology and EM weapons technology. The enemy won’t be able to see it/locate it past 30 kilometers out, and the DD(X) will be able to locate and kill that enemy from about 100 kilometers out, and possibly as far out as 200 kilometers. You do the math. And, the kinetic energy projectiles can be GPS guided.
DoD (Department of Defense) and th U.S. Army are looking at electromagnetic (EM) gun tech for Future Combat Systems (FCS) "transformation" program, which will by a "system of systems" or "family of systems" and utilize futuristic vehicles and weapons systems. FCS will take advantage of network centric warfare technologies. GlobalSecurity.org has a very informative page on Future Combat Systems (FCS), here. Imagine tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), howitzers, and smaller cannon systems that utilize electromagnetic propulsion weapons instead of chemical propellant (gunpowder), and thus fire smaller, lighter projectiles at much higher speeds, thus achieving the same or superior results against enemy targets. The EM gun systems will also allow vehicles to carry much more ammo into battle (smaller and lighter projectiles with no gunpowder, remember?).
Defense Review plans to interview someone at IAT Electromagnetic Systems Division personnel about their EM gun (rail gun) project(s), sometime in the future.