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US Navy Halts Development of Electromagnetic Railgun

The US Navy is canceling research and development on the much-hyped electromagnetic railgun after spending approximately half a billion dollars over 15 years.

The service cited fiscal constraints, combat system integration challenges, and technology maturation of other weapons as the main reasons for the decision.

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

As early as 2018, the end of electromagnetic railgun development was foreseen after Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, told Congress that the weapon had yet to reach its promised range. “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,” he explained.

Last month, the White House released its fiscal 2022 budget request showing that funding for gun-launched guided projectiles had been canceled.

Electromagnetic Railgun

The electromagnetic railgun is a futuristic, high-tech weapon that uses magnetic fields instead of gunpowder to fire rounds up to seven times the speed of sound within 100 nautical miles (185 kilometers).

The navy had been working on maturing the railgun’s launcher and pulsed power from single shot to a multi-shot capability, and incorporating auto-loading and thermal management systems.

“The railgun is revolutionary in terms of how much it can accelerate the bullet,” Program Manager for the Office of Naval Research, Tom Boucher, told International Business Times in 2016. “Powder guns have been matured to the point where you are going to get the most out of them.”

Moreover, a recent report claims that the weapon is “theoretically safer” than conventional guns since it reduces the amount of volatile powder a vessel stores in its hold.

Realigning Resources

According to AP, the decision to cancel electromagnetic railgun development comes as the US Department of Defense turns its attention to the development of hypersonic missiles.

Hypersonic missiles reportedly have speeds of more than five times the speed of sound and are designed to move in ways that make them difficult to find and destroy.

Defense expert Matthew Caris told AP he believes the navy may have recognized that such missiles have greater performance than the railgun.

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