For some time now, Defense officials have looked toward rail guns as the next generation of massive guns for use on Navy destroyers and cruisers.  While the 5” Mark 45 deck guns currently employed have proven capable in combat, engaging targets on land a far as 14 miles away and even possessing the capabilities to engage aircraft, the electromagnetically propelled shells of the Navy’s rail gun-dreams require no warheads whatsoever.  Instead, these weapons of the future would launch solid projectiles at speeds in excess of MACH 7.  The kinetic energy transfer alone from an impact at that speed would decimate a target, with no need for explosives or traditional warheads.

The problem, however, is that the rail gun technology has still yet to reach the fleet.  Its ammunition, however, may soon be another story.

The program is leveraging commercial electronics miniaturization and computational performance increases to develop a common guided projectile for use in current 5 inch guns and future high velocity gun systems.  The HVP effort will seek to increase range and accuracy of the 5-Inch Gun Weapon System in support of multiple mission areas,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told Scout Warrior.

The Navy is now working to convert the hypervelocity projectiles (HVPs) intended for use in rail guns, so they can be fired from the Navy’s existing Mark 45 deck guns.  While the different propulsion methodology costs the HVP a bit in terms of top speed, it offers a huge improvement over traditional munitions, without the need to start the lengthy and expensive development process over again.  The rail guns may continue their slow crawl toward deployment, but their munitions could already be winning battles long before they’re ever installed.

Each cruiser and destroyer in the U.S. Navy fleet already has one Mark 45, 127-millimeter cannon, that once equipped with HVP rounds, could extend its maximum range from 14 miles to a whopped 40.  Further, HVP rounds are self-guided, allowing for course corrections mid-flight and substantially increased accuracy.  When fired from a Mark 45 gun, the HVP can reach speeds in excess of Mach 3, and thanks to the advanced targeting systems allowed through the munition, it would allow ships to even target ballistic missiles, like those launched by North Korea, with their massive deck guns.

Of course, incredible speed and accuracy isn’t always enough to neutralize a threat.  The Mark 45’s ability to fire at a rate of 20 rounds per minute, however, means this shift in munitions could allow each destroyer and cruiser in America’s Navy the ability to accurately strike as many as 20 targets within a 40-mile radius per minute.

Gunner’s Mate requests permission to load traditional projectiles into the MK-45.

While the Mark 45 guns are traditionally used primarily as a shore bombardment weapons system, this change could open them up for a variety of new types of missions.  By tying the HVP rounds to the ship’s existing target control systems, it could allow a cruiser or destroyer’s big gun to be used to engage both cruise and long-range ballistic missiles, aircraft, and other ships like never before.  While not officially confirmed, it seems likely that these rounds will see the addition of variants based on their intended targets – with high explosive warheads added for ground attack, dart shaped rounds for anti-ship operations, and high explosives with proximity fuses for aircraft and missile engagements.

The U.S. Navy has solicited a number of contractors, including Raytheon and BAE, to be ready for test demonstrations as soon as 2018.