Navy set to deploy rail guns, laser prototypes

Office of Navy Research chief said service must press these next generation prototypes into service to see if they are worth a bigger investment.

The U.S. Navy’s Science and Technology community is deploying prototypes of electromagnetic rail guns, solid-state laser weapons and underwater unmanned vehicles in operational units with sailors and Marines, senior service leaders said April.

“These prototypes are shifting the game in our favor. We can no longer spend huge dollars on systems — they must be very reliable, very affordable and very effective.  It is about developing disruptive technologies that can be hugely effective and hugely affordable,” Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, Office of Naval Research (ONR), said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 14th Annual Science & Engineering Technology Conference/Defense Tech Exposition, National Harbor, Md.

A ship-mounted electromagnetic rail gun is one such prototype being tested on Navy vessels, Klunder said.

The rail gun, which can hit ranges of 100 miles or more, uses electricity stored on the ship to generate a high-speed electromagnetic pulse sufficient to propel a kinetic energy warhead.  The result, is an inexpensive, high-impact and long-range offensive weapon, Klunder said.

“Electromagnetics have been around for a long time. How do you harness them and build the rails? We’re big fans of learning how to prototype these technologies for military applications,” he added. “We’ve fired this numerous times through testing. This is showing incredible results, so much so that we are very committed to this for the future.”

The rail gun’s hyper-velocity projectile can also be fired from standard Navy 5-inch guns as well as 155mm Howitzers, Klunder added.

The Navy is also testing several prototypes of a fully-autonomous, long-endurance land launched unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), the large displacement UUV (LDUUV).

The idea is to deliver persistent undersea sensing capability while exploring technological avenues for increased energy density to prolong the LDUUV’s endurance and mission capabilities.

Klunder also highlighted the testing, development and deployment of the Navy’s Laser Weapons System (LaWS), a high-energy, solid-state next-generation directed energy or “laser” weapon to go early next year on board the USS Ponce.

The idea is deploy a low-cost, high-energy effective offensive and defensive weapon against a range of potential threats, including drones, fast-attack boats and what is referred to as small boat swarm attacks wherein large numbers of small watercraft attack simultaneously.

“My challenge is we’ve got to be better at developing great sophisticated systems . Let’s develop something that gives us a cost advantage over our adversary,” he added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.