Current development in rail gun technology.
As seen in: The eraser, Halo (Under the name MAC cannon), EVE online, metal gear solid, and many, many others.
Anyone who’s ever played a videogame or watched/read ANY science fiction will probably be familiar with rail guns. The idea is simple; you have two rails running parallel to each other. You pass a charge through them (negative one way, positive the other), and thanks to the joy of physics, the resultant magnetic force runs parallel to the rails. Fleming’s right hand rule, to all the physicists out there! Put something ferrous in there and bingo, the magnetic force will push it at high speed. Build a big enough system and pump enough energy into it and you can get a very long rage, very high muzzle velocity weapon.
I still don’t get why my secondary school wouldn’t let me build a coil gun (same idea, but with a wire coil rather than rails) for my A-level physics project…
Is it likely to happen any time soon?
Well you can build one for about £500 in your back garden if you want. Seriously. It wouldn’t be very powerful, but you could blow apart blocks of wood with it with ease. It’s unlikely that rail guns will become mainstream infantry weapons for a while, but many defense companies have created and tested (very successfully) prototype ship based rail guns. The US currently hopes to develop rail guns to the point where they can be mounted on battleships to replace tomahawk cruise missiles. They would have an equivalent (possibly longer) range, and do about the same damage. Accuracy would also not be a huge issue as rail guns have a predictable trajectory thanks to their speed.
Current tests indicate that a ship mounted rail gun will have an accurate range of 200 miles, allowing for a parabolic trajectory. At closer ranges it will be even more deadly, as it can delivery almost all of its initial energy into the target. Here’s a video to break up the monomoty of reading:
I reckon that we’ll see these deployed on ships by 2020.
Rail guns could also carry different kinds of “warhead”. If you need a bunker buster, then you can just leave a solid, heavy metal cap on the end of the shell. If you need to cause damage over a large area (say shelling an outpost), then you can place a head filled with ball bearings onto the end of the round, and stick some explosives into it. You basically turn the entire round into a hypersonic shotgun. Using a similar idea but with lots more lighter ball bearings, you can create an airburst round to shoot down aircraft.
As far as infantry rail guns go, I doubt we’ll be seeing any time soon. The amount of power required for these babies means that chemical propellants will remain the dominant force for some time. Smaller vehicle mounted rail guns though… Now that’s a possibility. Maybe within the next sixty years.
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