Instead of using chemical combustion, the railgun fires projectiles using magnetic fields generated by enormous amount of energy. The superweapon is capable of shooting projectiles at 72,420km/h and hitting targets 161km away. According to military veteran news outlet Task & Purpose, the railgun, which has cost the Pentagon about $US500 million ($656 million) since its inception in 2005, could be entering its twilight.
The recently declassified Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), which is tasked with helping usher new defence tech from testing facilities to combat, has reportedly shown less interest in the railgun than in other weapons under development. The waning enthusiasm might prevent the railgun from undergoing necessary tests that would allow the gun to be used in battle.
As the Navy has been developing the electromagnetic railgun, it has also been investing in hypervelocity projectile (HVP), a low-drag guided spike that the railgun could use for ammo. And now it seems the SCO has more interest in that ammo than the railgun it was originally built for.
HVP can also be fired using available powder weapons, and the US Department of Defence might be interested in getting those projectiles combat-ready before the railgun makes it through years of testing. “SCO shifted the project’s focus to conventional powder guns, facilitating a faster transition of HVP technology to the warfighter,” Chris Sherwood, an SCO spokesperson, told Task & Purpose. “Our priority continues to be the HVP, which is reflected in the program’s budget.”
According to Task & Purpose‘s report, some researchers think the SCO’s prioritisation of HVP means the railgun wont go through the necessary testing that would lead to its permanent installation on ships. One senior policymaker told Task & Purpose, “People at SCO don’t want to fund the railgun because they’re simply not buying it… They are imparting that priority on to Big Navy, which is pulling the money away from ONR [Office of Naval Research].”
But the ONR remains optimistic about the railgun – at least publicly. ONR spokesperson David Smalley told Task & Purpose that his organisation plans to continue developing the railgun and has been making “great technical progress and there have been no show stoppers to date to prevent the Navy from having a railgun in the future”.