The technology for the railgun was first demonstrated in a MIT lab back in 1964. Also known as a "mass driver" the concept was used as a futuristic weapon in many different stories including the famous Heinlein novel.
Megajoules are a unit of energy. One is about equal to the kinetic energy stored within 1-ton traveling at 100 miles per hour.
The railgun tested is a newly upgraded version of the gun. Two years ago it only managed abort a third of the current energy output.
Naval engineers stated that the super weapon was fired twice. The test took place at the
The very first shot obliterated the world's record for muzzle energy. After a 5-minute power up of the tractor-trailer sized weapon, the first projectile exploded from the barrel generating a terrific force. The slug traveled 5,500 feet and effectively destroyed the wooden target. The speed burned the atmosphere about it and left a fiery trail like a meteor.
During an interview with the Washington Post, railgun project manager Roger Ellis explained that people "see these things in the video games, but this is real. This is what is very historical."
Unlike conventional guns, a railgun operates on a different set of physics. It doesn't depend on explosive propellants or charges. Instead the futuristic weapon relies on a mammoth surge of electrical energy to shoot a slug from the barrel. According to naval engineers the projectile can reach speeds of Mach 8 and obliterate objects as far away as 100 miles.
Each time it's fired the railgun's projectile breaks the sound barrier creating a sonic boom that rolls across the countryside like ominous thunder.
Although the technology has been around for about half a century, until the last decade it was considered impractical. The concept of a railgun seemed more suited for use in space or on nearly airless planets or moons. The energy needed to propel a projectile any distance in atmosphere as dense as Earths was seen as unattainable.
Yet gradually the technology to generate fantastic amounts of energy bursts became available and once it was feasible the Navy began building experimental models of the railgun.
One advantage of a railgun is that no explosive warheads are used. The target is not destroyed by a warhead, but rather the kinetic energy built up by the speed and mass of the projectile.
This is same principle that's at play when a deep space object such as a large meteor or asteroid impacts the surface of a planet with the force of many hydrogen bombs detonating at once.
The Navy likes the fact that the weapon works without warheads. The need to carry explosive munitions on board their ships is therefore reduced and so are the odds of accidental detonations.
The Post reported that the chief of Naval Research, Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr Jr., expects the railgun to be tested on ships at sea before 2018 and deployed as a defensive weapon sometime after 2020. The ONR sees one use as a defense against incoming cruise missiles.
Seeing that the Navy now has the fastest, most powerful gun in the world, they chose their project's Latin motto well: "velocitas eradico."