America has a new strategy: scare everyone with wild weapons

August 18, 2016 by Adam Day
080131-N-0000X-001 DAHLGREN, Va. (Jan. 31, 2008) Photograph taken from a high-speed video camera during a record-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., on January 31, 2008, firing at 10.64MJ (megajoules) with a muzzle velocity of 2520 meters per second. The Office of Naval ResearchÕs EMRG program is part of the Department of the NavyÕs Science and Technology investments, focused on developing new technologies to support Navy and Marine Corps war fighting needs. This photograph is a frame taken from a high-speed video camera. U.S. Navy Photograph (Released)
Photograph taken from a high-speed video camera during a record-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., on January 31, 2008.  
U.S. Navy Photograph

It sounds more like science fiction than reality, but the United States is developing some truly amazing new weapons in an attempt to deter Russia and China from even thinking about going to war.

 One of the most interesting is the railgun. It’s an electromagnetic projectile launcher that accelerates rounds to incredible velocities and distances using no explosives at all. Describing exactly how it works really doesn’t clarify very much, unless of course you are a defence scientist or something, but here goes: “a railgun uses a pair of parallel conductors, or rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail.”

Railgun Main photo 3
The Electromagnetic Railgun illustration.
Office of Naval Research

The upshot is that the railgun can send out a round at more than seven times the speed of sound, to a range of more than 100 nautical miles, and it can do it without the risk of carrying around all those high explosives.

There are some drawbacks, however. One small problem is that the railgun itself can’t survive too many firings, because all the energy created is so powerful that it basically tears itself apart. Nonetheless, scientists are almost certain they can figure that problem out, and the railgun is slated to go into further testing very soon.

This project is a part of the U.S. plan to deter future enemies by creating weapons so dramatically better that it would be unwise to attack them. The key point is that these weapons have to be conventional, not nuclear, because while nuclear weapons provide a massive deterrent in theory, the reality is that they can’t readily be used at all (for fear of destroying the planet, etc) and so they actually provide very little real-world effect.

Other weapons in the multi-billion dollar plan includes swarms of airborne drones, unmanned underwater vehicles, high-energy lasers, and whole lots and lots of super-smart bombs and missiles.

In any case, the future of combat looks to be getting stranger and wilder all the time.


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