According to a new document, the US Navy may finally be ready to begin at sea tests for its electromagnetic railgun.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its development, the US Navy is finally preparing to test its electromagnetic railgun, reports Business Insider. That’s according to a new document that lay out the service’s testing and training plans.
According to the Navy's Northwest Training and Testing Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment, "The kinetic energy weapon (commonly referred to as the rail gun) will be tested aboard surface vessels, firing explosive and non-explosive projectiles at air- or sea-based targets."
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If true, the test would be a major milestone for the Navy’s railgun program, which has long struggled to gain footing. Unlike traditional weapons, a railgun uses electromagnets to launch projectiles seven times faster than the speed of sound.
So far, the Navy has spent more than $500 million and over a decade developing the railgun. A working prototype was originally expected to be tested at sea aboard the Spearhead-class ship, USNS Trenton based at Eglin Air Force Base's maritime test range, but it never happened.
However, the Navy continued to test the weapon on land to refine the technology. If these new plans are approved, then the railgun may be set for sea trails in 2020, although no ship has been named for it yet.
Stepping up the railgun program may be in response to the US’s greatest competitor, China, which has already installed a railgun aboard the Type 072III Yuting-class tank-landing ship "Haiyang Shan."
Even though China’s progress with railgun technology currently remains unknown, it is believed that the weapon has tested with preliminary sea trials. In January, Chinese media proclaimed that "China's naval electromagnetic weapon and equipment have surpassed other countries and become a world leader."
With the growing tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea, having this kind of technological superiority could mean ultimate control over the region. At the same time, president Trump has often stated that he doesn’t like expensive naval projects that involve electromagnets.