The Pentagon is closer to adding a futuristic new gun to its arsenal, using electricity rather than chemical propellants. It’s called an electromagnetic rail gun. A rail gun uses magnetic fields created by strong electrical currents to accelerate a sliding metal conductor along two rails. It can hurl projectiles as far as 370 kilometers at speeds of up to 9,000 kilometers per hour. That’s nearly twice as fast as conventional guns. After testing a couple of different rail guns in recent years, the Office of Naval Research awarded defense contractor BAE Systems $34.5 million to build a new prototype. This next-generation rail gun should overcome its predecessor’s shortcomings by firing multiple rounds and not overheating. Ship-mounted rail guns would be powered by the vessel’s electrical grid and reduce the amount of combustible material onboard. With the Navy already preparing to deploy laser-mounted cannons on some of its ships, control of the high seas may soon go to the side that can generate the most energy. [The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.
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