Earlier this year IEN offered some insight on the Office of Naval Research’s updated railgun option, citing how size and cost challenges could be signaling the end of the infamous weapon system. However, to the surprise of absolutely no one, it seems the desire to shoot really big bullets at supersonic speeds has not gone away.
Case in point – various reports indicate that the Chinese military is preparing to test magnetized plasma artillery guns capable of firing hypervelocity rounds at six times the speed of sound, or about 4600 mph.
Unlike the railgun, which is driven by electricity in generating about the same speed for a round that weighs twice as much, the technology for these guns is a bit more theoretical. Ideally, a current artillery gun would be retrofitted with a magnetized coating placed on the exterior of the tube or barrel. Working with this material on the outside, a magnetic field is created via a magnetic field generator placed on the inside.
This magnetic field combines with the heat and pressure generated by launching the round to ionize the gas that’s present, turning it into plasma. This plasma forms a thin, magnetized layer along the inner wall of the barrel. Ideally, this plasma decreases friction enough to double the range of current weapon systems without melting the artillery piece. If the science works out, this technology could be used on current naval guns, tanks and tracked artillery systems.
The extended range of these guns comes in a bit shorter than the 100-mile reach of the rail gun, as it hopes to be effective from just over 60 miles out.
Comparing it to the hypervelocity projectile system the Navy is exploring, the plasma-based system would fire the same size round at twice the speed. Both would leverage existing equipment. However, what remains unknown is how rapidly this type of weapon could fire, due to the amount of heat it would generate.
In addition to hypervelocity rounds and the railgun, the U.S. is also exploring the use of laser-based weapons for long-range, quick strike capabilities.