Indian Scientists at DRDO Successfully Fired Electromagnetic Railgun (Mach 6) Test Shot

Indian defense scientists have successfully developed electromagnetic railguns (EMRG) that can fire projectiles at Mach 6 (six times the speed of sound) or 4,600 miles per hour. Such railguns are touted as one of the future technologies of warfare, as they use kinetic and laser energy instead of controlled explosives for firing missiles.

The Indian Defense Research organization hopes to soon complete trials of electromagnetic railguns that would give the country’s naval forces a superlative advantage and a capability to launch devastating attacks on both land and sea targets.

According to the state-owned Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), a 12 mm square bore EMRG has been successfully tested and they are preparing for the 30 mm variety. The target is to accelerate a one-kilogram projectile to a velocity of more than 2,000 m/s with a capacitor bank of 10 megajoules.

“A simple, single pulse driven railgun launcher was developed with a minimum of metal components in proximity to the bore to maximize the inductance of the launcher and to improve the launch efficiency. The launcher has a 12 mm square bore cross-section. The launcher was fabricated with lengths ranging from 1 to 2 meter,” a defense scientist involved with the project told Sputnik on condition of anonymity.

Experts are of the opinion that India is gaining expertise beyond the conventional fields of technology development.

“As handling will be very easy, the armed forces can deploy it at any location in an emergency situation. It will be a very tactical weapon for the naval forces, Rajiv Nayan, a missile technology expert at the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), told Sputnik.

Another expert believes that such technological advancements will not only provide more teeth to the armed forces but will also affect a change in the principles that guide the Indian military’s approach to warfare.

“These are the times of early stages of development and more such tests in the future would help India to operationalize this technology, which eventually could demand some changes into the military doctrines,” Ajey Lele, a security analyst at IDSA, told Sputnik.

India expects to equip its naval forces with EMRG as the system has the potential to provide responsive, long-range, accurate and high-volume naval surface fire support. Railguns will also eventually be able to engage surface targets in direct-fire mode. Overall, EMRG will offer numerous advantages over conventional naval gunfire systems, as they have extremely long range, speed and accuracy thus nullifying the escape factor of an enemy platform or approaching projectile.

What is Railgun?

A railgun is a device that uses electromagnetic force to launch high-velocity projectiles, by means of a sliding armature that is accelerated along a pair of conductive rails. It is typically constructed as a weapon and the projectile normally does not contain explosives, relying on the projectile’s high speed to inflict damage. The railgun uses a pair of parallel conductors, or rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail. It is based on principles similar to those of the homopolar motor.

Railguns are being researched as weapons that would use neither explosives nor propellant, but rather rely on electromagnetic forces to impart a very high kinetic energy to a projectile (e.g. APFSDS). While explosive-powered military guns cannot readily achieve a muzzle velocity of more than about 2 km/s, railguns can readily exceed 3 km/s, and perhaps exceed conventionally delivered munitions in range and destructive force. The absence of explosive propellants or warheads to store and handle, as well as the low cost of projectiles compared to conventional weaponry, come as additional advantages.

Notwithstanding the above advantages, railguns are still very much at the research stage and it remains to be seen whether or not railguns will ever be deployed as practical military weapons. Any trade-off analysis between electromagnetic (EM) propulsion systems and chemical propellants for weapons applications must also factor in the novelty and complexity of the pulsed power supplies that are needed in electromagnetic launcher systems.

Problems with Railgun:

In theory, rail guns are the perfect solution for short- and long-range firepower. In reality, they present several serious problems:

  • Power supply: Generating the power necessary to accelerate rail gun projectiles is a real challenge. Capacitors must store electric charge until a sufficiently large current can be accumulated. While capacitors can be small for some applications, the capacitors found in rail guns are many cubic meters in size.
  • Resistive heating: When an electric current passes through a conductor, it meets resistence in the conductive material — in this case, the rails. The current excites the rail’s molecules, causing them to heat. In rail guns, this effect results in intense heat.
  • Melting: The high velocity of the armature and the heat caused by resistive heating damages the surface of the rails.
  • Repulsion: The current in each rail of a rail gun runs in opposite directions. This creates a repulsive force, proportional to the current, that attempts to push the rails apart. Because the currents in a rail gun are so large, the repulsion between the two rails is significant. Wear and tear on rail guns is a serious problem. Many break after a few uses, and sometimes they can only be used once.

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Sources: Sputnik, Wikipedia, Science.howstuffworks

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