Navy pulls plug on $500 million railgun effort


The Navy is shifting away from its electromagnetic railgun after more than 10 years of trying to create a weapon that uses electricity to fire projectiles at up to seven times the speed of sound, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

The service, which once considered using the futuristic armament on new Zumwalt-class destroyers, cut railgun research funding from its most recent budget proposal.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Courtney Callaghan confirmed to The Hill that the decision to pause railgun research, which would come at the end of the fiscal year, “is consistent with department-wide reform initiatives” to free up resources for hypersonic missiles, directed-energy systems like lasers and electronic warfare systems.

“Given fiscal constraints, combat system integration challenges, and the prospective technology maturation of other weapon concepts, the Navy decided to pause research and development of the Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) at the end of 2021,” she said in a statement.

The Navy spent about $500 million total on research and development of the railgun over more than a decade, Bryan Clark, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, told the AP.

The move comes as the Pentagon wants to focus on hypersonic missiles to keep pace with China and Russia.

What’s more, the Navy has long struggled with perfecting a railgun, a technology that only got so far as a prototype.

Railguns use electricity, instead of gunpowder or fuel, to fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound, a rate that would create enough kinetic energy to blow up a target.

The technology, if it were harnessed, would be far cheaper than using bombs and missiles.

But the Navy couldn’t get the railgun to fire beyond 110 miles in testing, which would mean a Navy ship couldn’t use the weapon without getting itself in range of enemy missiles.

It’s also unknown if the gun could stay together after only a few shots due to a massive electric current and magnetic forces it would need to work.

Should the Navy want to revisit railgun development in the future, information from its testing will be kept, Callaghan said. 


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