The electromagnetic rail gun could offer the Navy both additional range for land strikes as well as added capabilities in ballistic and cruise missile defense. In a perfect world, the Navy would like to invest in both particular technologies.
However, in this era of sequestration and shrinking budgets, the Navy likely has to choose. U.S. Navy Under Secretary Robert Work said he'd lean towards investing more heavily on ballistic and cruise missile defense versus land strike.
"We are over capitalized in strike, land strike. We've got a lot of land strike. I would put all of my money into the electromagnetic rail gun for ballistic and cruise missile defense," Work said Thursday at the Surface Naval Association conference in Crystal City, Va.
The Navy has spent the past eight years testing railguns, most notably rolling out the first weaponized railgun in January 2012. Navy leaders will have to make further investment decisions as the technology continues to mature.
However, Work said the Navy should delay the decision as they continue to decide how railguns might fit into their fleet designs. The under secretary doesn't expect the railgun to be used in surface or submarine naval battles. He expects the railgun to fall in line with the Navy's priority to provide power projection from the sea.
"Naval to naval exchanges just aren't our thing right now. What it is is about projecting power in theaters where these land based anti-access aerial denial networks with guided weapons that can be thrown at range in salvos is a very, very difficult problem and the Navy is very focused on," Work said.
Missile defense is a priority throughout the Pentagon as the rest of the world's militaries advance their guided missile technology.
"We're in a time of enormous technological flux and our enemies are now at a point where they have parity in guided missiles. I don't think they are with us as far as their networks but they are doing everything they can," Work said.
Navy leaders have read the research into missile defense and Work said it's left the admirals excited. Right now, he said it makes the most sense in terms of the new defense strategy and selling it to Congress.
"There is an awful lot of exciting analysis that says you can do ballistic missile defense and you can do cruise missile defense with it," Work said.
He insisted that the Navy must continue to invest in directed energy weapons research to include electromagnetic railguns.
"Woe to us if we lose ... the race to directed energy weapons and electromagnetic railguns," Work said. "That's not going to be a future that we want."