Since the mid-2000s, the US Navy, in cooperation with a number of scientific and design organizations, has been working on the study, creation and improvement of the so-called. rail guns. Within the framework of the ElectROMAGNETIC Railgun (EMRG) program, certain results were obtained, and in the future it was planned to put such weapons on warships. However, by now the situation has changed, and over the next few months all work in this direction will be curtailed.
At the end of May, the draft US military budget for the next FY2022 was published. A significant part of this document is devoted to the planned spending on the maintenance and development of the naval forces. Among other things, the costs of promising developments are discussed - and this section contains very interesting data.
The new draft indicates that the budget for FY2021 is within the framework of "applied research of prototypes for the fleet" (Innovative Naval Prototypes, INP), the fleet requested and received $ 9.5 million for the development of railguns. In addition, Congress, on its own initiative, through INP Advanced Technology Development, allocated $ 20 million for this program … Apparently, the development of this money is still ongoing, but will be completed in the coming months - by the end of the current financial year.
For FY2022 INP funding is not requested. The INP ATD table also contains zeros. As the reasons for this, the completion of research work and the development of a promising direction are indicated. The documentation for the EMRG program will be retained, but no plans for further use are mentioned. All this allows us to speak about the complete cessation of work - without the transition from the research stage to the experimental design stage.
Thus, the program for the development of a combat railgun for EMRG ships is stopped, at least indefinitely. A decade and a half of active work, research and testing will not give the desired results in the foreseeable future.
The Pentagon began researching rail guns back in the eighties of the last century. At the same time, the first laboratory prototypes appeared, showing the fundamental possibility of creating such combat systems. Work on railguns for the Navy began later. The EMRG program started only in the middle of the 2000s, but quickly enough gave real results.
Already in the middle of the 2000s, General Atomics and BAE Systems presented their rail gun projects. Soon, prototypes were made, the tests of which were carried out for a long time at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in pieces. Virginia. In 2019, the tests were moved to the White Sands proving ground in New Mexico.
According to early estimates, it took about ten years to create a combat-ready model. In 2015-16. an experienced cannon could be tested on a real ship. It was planned to spend several more years on fine-tuning, and by the mid-twenties, the Navy would have received full-fledged combat-ready weapons. However, for one reason or another, the dates were repeatedly shifted to the right. Tests on an experimental vessel have not yet been carried out - and, as it is now clear, will no longer take place.
In recent years, a specific situation has developed around the topic of rail guns. For example, the Navy and members of the EMRG program rarely talked about their successes. At the beginning of 2018there was news about a possible refusal to develop a railgun - this is how foreign media interpreted a sharp cut in funding for the program. However, the work continued, although in the future the Navy allocated no more than $ 8-10 million annually for them.
FY2021 Defense Current Budget allows for the continuation of the EMRG program, but now it is only about the completion of the current work. Recent news shows that the Navy is no longer planning to continue developing new weapons. However, rail guns still have some chances. The Navy can transfer the program to secret budget items, and Congress has the right to insist on the continuation of the project and provide the necessary money.
The first rail gun, created by order of the US Navy, was shown in 2006. The stationary proving ground sample emitted a projectile weighing 3.2 kg with a muzzle energy of 8 MJ. In terms of its energy and related characteristics, such a product approached the standard NATO tank guns. At the same time, not only the advantages, but also the disadvantages of such a design were shown. The prototype gun was excessively large and heavy, and needed powerful power supply and cooling systems.
In early 2008, General Atomics fired its first rail cannon equipped with a new type of power system. It was possible to obtain a muzzle energy of more than 10.6 MJ and an initial velocity of over 2500 m / s. At the end of 2010, BAE Systems set a new record. Her weapon showed an energy of 33 MJ. Two years later, General Atomics responded with its cannon with similar characteristics and reduced dimensions. Such a product could already be considered as a ship's armament.
In the middle of the last decade, it was reported about the continuation of work and the expected creation of a full-fledged gun mount suitable for installation on Navy ships. In 2014, two developers presented full-size mock-ups of artillery systems. They were even placed on the deck of the ship for demonstration. Underdeck units, as far as is known, have not been demonstrated in this way.
As the main carrier of railguns, destroyers of the Zumwalt type, distinguished by a high-power power plant, were considered. Their generators have a total capacity of 78 MW, which is enough to supply power to all onboard systems and at the same time ensure the efficient operation of the rail gun. Integration into the complex of weapons of other ships was not ruled out, but it could be associated with serious difficulties. In particular, existing weapons would have to be sacrificed to accommodate all new units.
Some materials on EMRG featured the concept of a stationary coastal artillery battery with rail guns. For all its fire advantages, such a complex has obvious disadvantages, and this idea was later abandoned.
The development of a promising guided projectile, corresponding to the characteristic loads at launch and capable of flying over a distance of hundreds of kilometers, was carried out. The most ambitious plans were announced, but, as far as we know, there have not yet been any real results suitable for practical application.
It took about 17-18 years and more than $ 500 million to develop a rail gun for the US Navy. Despite all the efforts and expenses, the promising weapon has not even reached the stage of testing on a ship. Moreover, they plan to abandon the project, at least for a while. Obviously, such a negative decision must have good reasons. The Navy and the Pentagon have not yet raised this topic, but some assumptions and conclusions can be made.
Throughout the EMRG program, the fleet and its contractors faced a problem of overwhelming complexity. The creation of a rail gun - a stationary test bench or a prototype for ship tests - was difficult, time-consuming and expensive. At the same time, as can be judged, the assigned tasks could not be fully solved. Accordingly, the program risked becoming even longer and more expensive, with no guarantee of successful completion.
However, even the successful creation of a ship installation would not guarantee success. Such weapons have long been left without potential carriers. Initial plans called for the construction of 32 Zumwalt destroyers, each of which could receive a railgun. Subsequently, the shipbuilding program was reduced to three hulls. Nothing is known about the development of a new ship of a close class equipped with a comparable power plant.
Thus, the successful completion of the development of a new gun would allow re-equipping only three ships in the short and medium term. Further production of combat railguns would be questionable - as well as the feasibility of spending on such a project.
For undefined period
The final decision was probably made with all these factors in mind. In the current situation, having soberly assessed its needs, capabilities and potential, the US Navy came to the conclusion that it was necessary to close the interesting and promising, but controversial EMRG program. As a result, ships will have to continue to use cannon artillery, mostly of old types. Fundamentally new ammunition for it is also canceled.
However, it cannot be ruled out that the idea of a rail gun will still be returned. In the medium or long term, the US Navy and industry can solve a number of pressing technical issues, which will create a groundwork for resuming the development of railguns, already with real prospects. How soon this will happen and what consequences it will have - it will not be known soon.