San Diego’s General Atomics Reveals Railgun Technology, Developed Through Internal R&D

San Diego’s General Atomics, one of the region’s leading defense contractors, said today that it has been participating in efforts to develop an electromagnetic railgun, which uses high-powered electromagnets instead of gunpowder to launch artillery-like projectiles. The private government contractor says it successfully test-fired aerodynamic rounds from a prototype electromagnetic railgun three months ago at Utah’s Dugway Proving Grounds.

General Atomics says the projectiles, developed for supersonic speeds by Boeing’s “Phantom Works” unit in St. Charles, MO, were launched by its “Blitzer” railgun prototype at Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The test was conducted in September under a contract with the Office of Naval Research.

General Atomics, or GA, has gained extensive expertise in electromagnetics systems in recent decades, stemming chiefly from its work during the 1990s with ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) a multi-nation project to develop fusion energy. GA helped develop electromagnets powerful enough to contain the superhot plasma needed to sustain nuclear fusion. Since then, the company also began developing advanced electromagnetic technology for launching aircraft from naval aircraft carriers and mag-lev technology for public transit systems.

Blitzer Railgun Test

Blitzer Railgun Test

While efforts to develop railgun technology have been underway for decades, the Navy’s revived initiative became front-page news in 2008, when the Office of Naval Research set a new record by using an unprecedented pulse of energy (10.6 megajoules) to fire a seven-pound slug at Mach 7. With such technology, a railgun-equipped warship off the coast of San Diego could fire a projectile more than 200 miles, or almost two-thirds the distance to Phoenix. A projectile traveling at such speeds does not require explosives to … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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