NEWS | Dec. 2, 2011

NRL Railgun Group Receives Award of Merit for Group Achievement

By Daniel Parry

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory railgun group, comprised of the Plasma Physics, Material Science & Technology and Chemistry Divisions, received the NRL Award of Merit for Group Achievement, Oct. 31, for outstanding contributions to the development of the Navy's Electromagnetic Railgun.

Applying advanced concepts, subscale testing and experimental analysis, the scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel have performed with dedication, hard work and innovation to achieve outstanding results, said NRL Commanding Officer, Capt. Paul Stewart. The railgun group has become the core of the Navy's science team for the development of a hypervelocity electric railgun launcher that, in the coming decade, will provide a significant advancement in Navy warfighting capability.

The success of the program comes from the many and varied contributions of the entire group. Contributions that include development of new rail geometries that minimize barrel erosion, new launch package designs that resist transition to arcing contacts, introduction of interfacial lubricants to decrease barrel wear, detailed ex situ analysis of materials leading to a better understanding of launch physics, new models of wear mechanisms and development of advance computer modeling techniques.

The science staff designed experiments, gathered data, and analyzed results. Materials scientists dissected the components of the system after launch revealing information about the conditions present during launch. Modelers analyzed rail, armature and containment designs and developed codes that can model launch conditions, assisting in the interpretation of data, and the support staff assisted to make the performance of each of these tasks possible.

At the center of the NRL program is the 5,000 square foot Materials Testing Facility (MTF) that houses a 'scaled-for-laboratory,' 6-meter, 1.5 Mega-joule kinetic energy railgun. In four-and-a-half years of operation, most at a 2.5 km/s launch velocity, the NRL railgun has launched 1,000 high-energy projectiles using a wide variety of rail and armature designs and bore materials.

Discoveries, innovations, understanding and advanced techniques developed by the NRL team have been transferred to the Navy's Electromagnetic Railgun Program and helped push the technology closer to weaponization. In the process, the NRL program has broken records, developed and tested new rail and armature geometries, introduced advanced materials and launch techniques and developed new diagnostics requiring efforts ranging from modeling and simulation to engineering design to testing to detailed analyses of results.

The NRL Railgun Program began in 2003. Since that time 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. The NRL goal during this period has been to investigate the science behind high power railgun projectile launch. This work has focused on the development of long-lived barrels and launch packages that can withstand pressures, accelerations, and currents that are well outside of conventional engineering comfort zones.