Like every other red-blooded American boy, I enjoy the notion of propelling a piece of lead at up to Mach 8 and at "extreme" ranges. That's why I was glad to hear that BAE Systems has delivered a rail gun capable of such feats, and that the US Navy signed for the package.A rail gun, to refresh your memory, is one that relies on precise and extremely juiced electromagnets to thrust the projectile, rather than ever increasing amounts of packed and wadded gunpowder or other fuel. Explosives are, after all, dangerous. On a ship, they either blow up or get wet, and either way that's just bad.
The device BAE Systems shipped to the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. is the 32-megajoule Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun (32-MJ LRG for short, but we'll call her "Julie"). It is about four times as strong as the last generation of rail guns, but demands 3 million amps of power per shot—enough to drain your Metal Gear's battery in a heartbeat. You'll notice the word "laboratory" stuck in there. Real-life rail guns have kinks that still need to be worked out:
Effective rail guns will require a major breakthrough in capacitor technology between now and 2020, as well as a way to keep the barrels from being shredded by each high-velocity shot.
Mind you, the Navy isn't like pissing its pants for joy that it gets to play with a 32-megajoule rail gun. This is America, after all. What the Navy really wants is a 64-megajoule rail gun. But since that might take 13 years and would require, yep, 6 million amps per shot, the Navy's gonna have to quit bitching and enjoy the toys it has, at least for now. [Popular Mechanics]