NEWS | April 14, 2014

NRL Commissions Small Railgun

By Daniel Parry

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) through support of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) commissioned the new small bore (1-inch in diameter) railgun (SRG) at the laboratory's Materials Testing Facility. The first shot was fired March 7 to inaugurate the next chapter in weapons research for the Navy and U.S. military forces.

This 'small railgun' is an experimental platform for a small bore system that could address modest power for land and sea based missions, said Dr. Robert A. Meger, head, NRL Charged Particle Physics Branch. The SRG is designed to operate at several launches per minute from a mobile platform using advanced battery technology.

A railgun is a form of single turn linear motor. Magnetic fields generated by high currents driven in parallel conductors, rails, accelerate a sliding conductor, known as an armature, between the rails.

The NRL Railgun Program began in 2003. Since then it has become a critical element in the Navy's thrust to develop hypervelocity electric weapons for long-range fire support and ship self-defense. When the Navy deploys its first hypervelocity electric launcher, its success will be partially due to the efforts of the NRL railgun group.

In October 2011, NRL researchers reached a critical milestone, firing the one-thousandth shot from the larger experimental Electromagnetic Railgun. In February 2012, the Navy announced that it would begin testing a full-size prototype at its facility in Dahlgren, Va.

The NRL Railgun Materials Testing Facility focuses on materials issues for a major Navy effort to develop a long-range, electromagnetic launcher for a future electric ship. The NRL Plasma Physics Division conducts a broad program in laboratory and space plasma physics and related disciplines, high power lasers, pulsed-power sources, intense particle beams, advanced radiation sources, materials processing, and nonlinear dynamics.