We are witnessing the birth of one of the future’s most iconic weapons, “the railgun,” and will soon see them implemented in modern warfare. The railgun will simply change the way wars are conducted. From logistics to armor, militaries will be forced to quickly adapt the way they do business.
“This is going to change the way we fight,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the Office of Naval Research.
Currently, the United States Navy leads the chase in an effort to field a military grade railgun. BAE and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), with the support of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), have produced several working prototypes that can fire a 25-pound projectile 5,000 miles an hour, more than a mile a second, and capable of piercing seven (7) sheets of armor.
As of this moment, and for the foreseeable future, there is no armor that’s realistically capable of stopping a high powered railgun round. The amount of modern day armor that would have to stack on a main battle tank to be able to protect itself would render it immobile and the same goes for ships. Militaries will start to transform themselves from using vehicles that are armor-centric to vehicles that are quick, agile, and making the most of passive and active defense systems.
The logistical impact over traditional weaponry will be massive. To just transport the projectile itself and not the propulsion components with it, will greatly reduce space and weight on cargo aircraft, trucks, and ships. The added bonus of this means more ammo can be shipped or fitted into ships and vehicle magazines.
While there’s no question that railguns will impact the world and war, it will have as yet unrealised effects on the global balance of power. The Navy sees railguns as a weapon that can be used to tear enemy ships in half and strike targets deep inland. The Pentagon sees it has a strategic weapon. The Wall Street Journal has noted that the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is investing another $800 million—the largest share for any project—to develop the weapon’s defensive abilities. They see that it has the potential to shoot down a wide range of missiles, aerial targets, and possibly satellites.
China and Russia view America’s advancement in railgun tech and hypersonic vehicles as having the potential to upend the balance of power, drastically shifting it even more in America’s favor. It’s clear the railgun is here to stay and will be the dominate weapon system of choice for decades to come.