Development of a futuristic weapon depicted in video games and science fiction is going well enough that a Navy admiral wants to skip an at-sea prototype in favor of installing an operational unit aboard a destroyer planned to go into service in 2018.
The Navy has been testing an electromagnetic railgun and could have an operational unit ready to go on one of the new Zumwalt-class destroyers under construction at Bath Iron Works.
Adm. Pete Fanta, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, has floated the idea of foregoing the current plan to put a prototype on another vessel this year and instead put it directly on future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, though no final decision has been made.
“The Zumwalt-class is one of a number of options being explored for the electromagnetic railgun,” said Lt. Cmdr. Hayley Sims, a Navy spokeswoman. “Due to the size, weight and power requirements, some platforms will be better suited for the technology than others.”
Railguns use electricity instead of gunpowder to accelerate a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound — creating enough kinetic energy to destroy targets.
It’s literal whiz-bang technology that holds the possibility of providing an effective weapon at pennies on the dollars compared to smart bombs and missiles.
There has been talk since the inception of the Zumwalt program that the massive destroyers would be a likely candidate for the weapon because of its power plant. The USS Johnson will be the third and final destroyer in the Zumwalt class.
The 600-foot-long warship uses marine turbines similar to those that propel the Boeing 777 to help produce up to 78 megawatts of electricity for use in propulsion, weapons and sensors. That’s more than enough juice for the railgun.
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