The Navy Finally Pulls the Plug on the Railgun

Firing of electromagnetic railgun Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va.
Photograph taken from a high-speed video camera during a firing of an electromagnetic railgun at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., on January 31, 2008. (U.S. Navy/John Williams)

The Navy has announced that it is pulling funds from the much-hyped electromagnetic railgun in order to shift those monetary resources to hypersonic missiles and other high-tech weapons.

The program, which began in 2005, was supposed to use magnetic fields instead of gunpowder to fire rounds at speeds of up to Mach 7 and ranges of up to 100 nautical miles.

However, despite the more than 15 years that program has spent in development, it never was fielded. Navy officials continued to insist that it saw a future for the $500 million experiment as late as 2018.

“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,” the statement from the Navy said.

The railgun will now join the ranks of other costly, yet never implemented weapons programs like the Future Combat Systems, Comanche helicopter, and Next Generation Cruiser projects.

The end of the railgun program was foreshadowed last month when a White House fiscal budget for 2022 revealed the Navy pulled funding for the Gun-Launched Guided Projectile -- a meter-long projectile first developed exclusively as a round for the experimental railgun.

“The decision to pause the EMRG program is consistent with department-wide reform initiatives to free up resources in support of other Navy priorities [and] to include improving offensive and defensive capabilities such as directed energy, hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare systems,” the Navy’s statement said.

However, funding was not the only issue plaguing the futuristic weapon.

In 2018, then-chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Congress that the weapon had yet to reach its promised range.

"That involves a number of technologies," he said. "The barrel itself is probably the limiting case, the engineering on that, the materials required to sustain that power pulse, and the heat and pressure that's involved in launching those projectiles."

Another unresolved issue was a power source for the gun. Only the Navy’s three-ship Zumwalt class destroyers reportedly were capable of supplying the electricity needed to operate the gun.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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