General Atomics has been awarded a contract to develop electromagnetic railgun technology for the Army as the service pursues cutting-edge weapons to take on advanced adversaries.
The Army's growing interest in this capability comes after years of research by the Navy, which has yet to field one of the weapons.
Railguns utilize magnetic fields generated by electrical currents to slide a projectile between two rails inside the barrel. The technology enables the projectiles to travel at hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 (3,800 miles per hour) or faster. When the systems are mature, they are expected to have far greater range and lethality than standard artillery or naval guns.
The Defense Department has identified hypervelocity weapons as a top research-and-development priority.
"It's an important area of... R&D that we're pursuing very quickly," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a recent House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.
The service's No. 1 priority for modernization is long-range precision fires, he noted.
"A subset of that is the hypersonics piece," he said. "I do believe that it's technologically possible. And I believe we will be able to test and then acquire and procure long-range precision weapons that go significantly longer in range than any existing artillery system on the Earth today."
The railgun concept is also promising for air and missile defense because it could dramatically change the cost equation, noted Peter W. Singer, a military technology expert at New America, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Traditional missile interceptors can cost millions of dollars each, whereas railgun projectiles are expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars per shot.
"It's a little bit of a parallel to what the Israelis ran into using expensive missiles to shoot down cheap drones or using them to shoot down incoming rockets and mortars," Singer said. "There's a lot of excitement" about the cost-effectiveness of railguns, he added.
General Atomics' electromagnetic systems division announced in March that it had been awarded a contract through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium to evaluate and mature railgun weapon system capabilities in support of U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Command.
During the three-year performance period, the contractor will team with ARDEC to deliver a series of prototypes, and perform system integration and testing for mission effectiveness and possible integration with Army vehicles, the company said in a press...