The research and development project of the electromagnetic railgun has been shelved in favor of other weapons.
The US Navy’s 2022 budget draft submitted to Congress does not include spending on the Electromagnetic Railgun Project. Since 2005, this expenditure has appeared on the Navy’s annual list of “R&D and the technologies of the future”. A spokesman for the US Navy has announced that the electromagnetic railgun project will be frozen. This means that the project that cost more than 500 million USD has really failed. So why is America’s “miracle cannon” project now brought to the “Naval Museum”?
In 2005, when the development of a gun that used electromagnetic forces to launch high-velocity projectiles began, this promising new gun had an ambitious mission: Use electromagnetics instead of traditional gunpowder to propel warheads to a range of hundreds of kilometers. Theoretically, the weapon could accelerate the shell to about Mach 6, 6 times the speed of sound. However, this gun has never actually reached this speed – the best result in 2016 was only Mach 3.6.
Although this speed is much greater than that of conventional cannons, it is still not enough to achieve the original goal. The range of this gun is only 180 km, far from the advertised 400 to 500 km. The main downside of this Railgun isn’t even this. The problem is that the gun cannot guarantee to hit the target accurately at top speed.
The curvature of the earth’s surface, gravity, air temperature, reduced density or humidity, and even wind speed – all of this limited the gun’s accuracy when shooting. Even within tens of kilometers, the accuracy of this weapon is not equal to that of conventional artillery. At a range of 180 km, the Railgun’s precision attack can deviate by more than 100 meters. The shells could not hit fixed targets, for moving targets it is even more difficult.
The most disappointing thing is the theory of using this Railgun. The first launch of this gun has revealed its layout, the Zumwalt-class stealth destroyer is expected to be equipped with this “super gun”. This layout would break the Zumwalt’s concept of stealth, which means that Zumwalt would be easily destroyed by enemy anti-ship missiles or naval aviation.
As has been demonstrated in the tests, the electromagnetic railgun cannot fire for long – its barrel life is very short, especially when compared to conventional artillery. Its rate of fire is also slow – the onboard power supply can only guarantee 1 to 2 shots per minute. To increase the rate of fire, the ship needs to be equipped with a nuclear reactor and a modern cooling system.
Penetration is also an issue, especially at long range. The drag of the air will quickly reduce the speed of the shell. Therefore, even if it hits the target, its power will not exceed that of a medium cannon.