The railgun did not help: the US is urgently looking for protection against hypersonic weapons

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The railgun did not help: the US is urgently looking for protection against hypersonic weapons
The railgun did not help: the US is urgently looking for protection against hypersonic weapons
22 March, 13:09ArmyPhoto: Соцсети
America developed a new guided munition, but it did not become a panacea for Russian hypersonic weapons.

Alexander Sychev

At the Whitesands test sites in New Mexico and Duguey (Utah), General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) has completed a series of tests of interceptor projectiles. They fired using an electromagnetic mass accelerator, in other words, a railgun with a power of 32 megajoules and a 120 mm gun.

Far behind Russia in developing hypersonic weapons, the United States is frantically looking for ways to defend itself. General Atomics, in particular, is developing ammunition that would be fired from guns and be able to maneuver at hypersonic speeds to hunt for enemy hypersonic missiles. To do this, GA-EMS installed integrated guidance electronics on its ammunition.

During the past firing, their ability to maintain data transmission channels at hypersonic speeds was tested, as well as to control their flight path. Designers also figured out how electronics can withstand monstrous overloads, temperatures and exposure to powerful electromagnetic fields.

“We have made significant improvements to the design of our projectile, demonstrating survivability and good aerodynamic characteristics at hypersonic speeds. We have tested targeting capabilities that promise the greater accuracy needed to effectively engage aerial threats,” said Scott Forney, president of the company, about the tests.

The inclusion of a railgun in a series of tests indicates that although the Pentagon stopped funding work on the creation of electromagnetic weapons in 2021, they have not completely abandoned their old idea. Railgun development began in 2005. Then the US Navy launched a program called Velocitas Eradico, which means “get rid of speed” in Latin. The program involved General Atomics and BAE Systems. The two prototypes they created functioned in much the same way, firing projectiles using powerful electromagnetic fields.

Great hopes were placed on electromagnetic mass accelerators for a number of theoretically substantiated reasons. In particular, it is believed that the railgun can fire at a distance of more than 200 kilometers. True, in this case, as it turned out, many problems arise, such as the inhomogeneity of the curvature of the earth's surface, the difference in atmospheric density, gravitational inhomogeneity, and many others.

I was also very inspired by the ability to shoot very quickly, in fact, with an ordinary metal blank. Its charm is that it is not explosive and has smaller dimensions than rockets and, especially, artillery shells. This means that the supply of ammunition on ships could be increased many times over.

And the speed was just amazing. One of the most important reasons for the development of railguns was that the use of gunpowder for firing had reached its limit - 2.5 kilometers per second. In 2016, the designers of both companies promised the US Navy that they would be able to disperse projectiles fired from railguns up to Mach 6. The Navy gave them $500 million for exploration. But all 16 years of research, accompanied by large-scale and rather intrusive advertising of the prospects for new weapons and sensational press conferences, ended in almost nothing.

The railgun exists, but it cannot be called a military weapon. One of the reasons is that the contact "rails", which are the "barrel" of the gun, can withstand only three shots. After that, they need to be changed, and this is expensive oxygen-free copper and silver. It was not possible to find suitable, more durable materials, and then the Americans decided to save money - last year they signed an agreement with Japan, instructing her to deal with the railgun theme.

Now the Pentagon's dreams have shrunk to the hope of getting a hypersonic air defense munition that could be fired from a cannon, and in the future, if the Japanese can find a durable material for making "rails", from a railgun. This projectile must not only fly very fast, but also maneuver in order to be able to intercept hypersonic strike weapons.

Although the current tests at General Atomics were considered quite successful, they were not crowned with complete success. It turned out that at the promised speed of Mach 6, the projectile was uncontrollable and maneuvering was impossible. In practice, he was able to maintain a communication channel with the base station and maneuver at speeds up to Mach 3.6, which is much less than the flight speed of any rocket. The range of application of guided cannon shells immediately shrank. To shoot down hypersonic weapons, it is still necessary to accurately calculate the lead point. And this is impossible - modern hypersonic weapons are able to maneuver and, therefore, evade any of the available interceptors.

But the tests, obviously, cannot be recognized as completely useless. A means of combating air targets flying at subsonic and supersonic speeds has appeared. In addition, experimental results have been obtained that are useful for groups of scientists and designers involved in the development of hypersonic weapons. In the United States, this task has been approached on a large scale - many companies and institutions are being financed, and they have also joined the relevant work that is being carried out in some countries, in particular, in Japan and Australia.

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