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The US Military’s Most Powerful Gun


This episode of Real Engineering is brought to you by brilliant.org, a problem solving website that helps you think like an engineer. Guns are a technology whose roots can be traced all the way back to 12th century China. And although the technology has advanced beyond recognition: with the guns growing in size and power their ammunition has evolved from spherical to the more familiar bullet shape to make them more efficient at supersonic speeds; the barrels have been bored with twists to impart a spin on the round to make it more accurate; and the method of their transportation has revolutionized how they’re used. But there has been one constant for this technology through the centuries. Today we’re going to learn how this technology looks set to be revolutionized by its largest iteration to date with the invention of the rail gun. Rail guns are guns that use electromagnetic force to propel a projectile instead of an explosive. Using explosives to power artillery has some drawbacks. Perhaps the most glaring one, being that naval ships have to carry huge caches of explosives on board to power their guns. This has backfired several times throughout history, particularly during World War II when on multiple occasions Japanese attacks detonated huge stores of ammunitions within ships, with the most horrifying case being the kamikaze attack on the USS John Burke, where the resulting explosion dwarfed the gigantic ships in its convoy. Obviously, avoiding future cases of this would be ideal; but this isn’t the only advantage. Current railgun designs are doubling the muzzle velocity of all naval artillery with hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6 — most naval artillery max out at Mach 3. This would extend the range and reduce the time to impact by nearly double too if it wasn’t for the elevated air resistance at these speeds. This technology has been a focus of the US military for decades, and for good reason. So let’s see how it works and what needs to improve before we see it introduced to service. Rail guns use electromagnetism to propel a conductive armature, housing the projectile, downrange. The physics is quite simple, however the math is not. Two parallel rods are connected to a power source — these two rods can be considered the weapon’s barrel. Connecting these two rods and completing the circuit is the armature. As the current passes through the rails, it generates a magnetic field. The same happens as it passes through the armature. The interaction of these perpendicular currents through the magnetic field produces something called the Lorentz Force. This force acts both perpendicular to the flow of the current and the magnetic field. In the case of the railgun, this force is what pushes the projectile through the barrel and downrange. The beauty of the Lorentz Force is that it’s consistent, meaning the longer the barrel the higher the muzzle velocity. but the power required to simply overcome the static friction within the barrel of a miniature railgun can require significant amounts of energy most individuals don’t easily have access to. This is when things start to get extremely interesting or extremely challenging because both solving for the Lorentz Force and generating sufficient Lorentz Force are both huge engineering challenges that have only been made possible and sustainable in the last 20 years. The Lorentz Force, in the case of a railgun, is simply the current multiplied by the armature width, the magnetic field in Teslas, and sine theta, where theta is the angle of the current, which in this case is 90 degrees. The magnetic field, B, is a property of the railguns design, such as materials, rail separation, and diameter and overall design geometry. With some assumptions, the equations clean up a bit, but for actual railgun design, these assumptions can’t be made. While this technology has huge potential, there are some problems that need to be overcome to make this a serious weapon system. First and foremost, the same force that is applied to the armature also acts on the parallel rails. Quite literally, every time the weapon system is fired, the gun is actively trying to tear itself apart. On top of all this, the heat generated during each shot is so immense it is melting the rails. This can be seen during test fire drills with prototype railgun systems. That discharge you see behind the projectile is not the result of explosive propulsion, but a result of the resistive electric heating created by the huge current running through the rails and the frictional force between the armature and the rail, causing the rails to melt and shed material during each shot, causing more damage to the rail. These are unavoidable side effects, which are currently limiting the railgun to just a few shots before the damage breaks the gun entirely. Next, and possibly the most obvious limitation to the railgun design as a whole, is power. For this weapon to ever be introduced to service, it would have to be paired with a power source capable of providing the 25 megawatts needed to fire it. Even if previous generation ships had this capability, they would not have had enough power in reserve after satisfying the needs to the onboard systems and propulsion. But America’s new futuristic Zumwalt-Class Destroyer is an all-electric composite ship that was slated to test this new weapon. With a generator capable of creating 78 megawatts, it would still have 58 megawatts of capacity available after providing for the rest of the ship’s essential power requirements. Difficulties in railgun development and fiscal pull backs in Zumwalt construction have delayed their introduction. But they can, and likely will, be retrofitted in the coming years, once the current Durability problems have been solved. And while this technology is currently being funded by the military, it has far-reaching potential for other industries. We spoke recently of the challenges of intercepting ICBMs with traditional missiles. Rail guns could allow multiple interceptors to be quickly fired at a fraction of the cost and increase the chances of success. They have even been suggested as a means of protecting the earth from asteroids, with huge versions in orbit, to destroy or change the direction of incoming asteroids. Launching a satellite like this could also be made drastically cheaper too if we can deliver the materials to orbit with nothing more than the force a magnetic field imparts on a moving electric charge. If you’d like to learn more about electricity and magnetism and how they affect the world around us or any number of other scientific and mathematical principles, the best way to learn and understand principles like this is by applying them yourself, and that’s exactly what brilliant.org allows you to do. One of my goals with this channel is to inspire my viewers to follow the path of past engineers to make this world a better place. But to do that you have to learn how to apply these principles yourself. Brilliant is a problem-solving site that helps you think like an engineer by guiding you through problems that are broken into digestible sections that bring you from knowing nothing to having a deep understanding of the topic. What I love is that when you answer something incorrectly, it even tells you exactly why so you can correct your misconceptions. To support Real Engineering and learn more about Brilliant, go to brilliant.org/realengineering and sign up for free. And the first 200 people that go to that link will get 20% off their annual premium subscription. Brilliant is a perfect fit for my channel, so please check them out. As usual, thank you to all my Patreon supporters for helping this channel exist. Myself and Sam from Wendover Productions just released the latest episode of our podcast, Showmakers, with special guest, Christian Tierney, who is an incredible photographer and videographer who recently worked with Conor McGregor for his last fight with Floyd Mayweather. The link for that should be on screen now.

100 thoughts on “The US Military’s Most Powerful Gun

  1. As usual, I underestimated how long the podcast would take to upload, but it's already available at www.showmakers.fm, and will be on the youtube channel soon.

    Please check out Brilliant too, it's a fantastic site and fits my channel perfectly: http://bit.ly/2xDcRNe

  2. All kinds of data…except accuracy and actual tests on a target 100 miles away. Lots of graphics but no actual test.

  3. Actually soon we will see what's the most powerful gun In area 51… Some of us will feel it some of us will see it some of us will Get it… Ah well see

  4. They've pretty much solved the problem of the railgun destroying itself by repeat firing.  They can fire about 25 to 30 rounds before they have to change out the magnetic rail which they are trying to get to under 5 minutes.  If you have several railguns at your disposal (like all of us do), then while 5 or 6 are firing, you can shut the one down  that needs maintenance.  Makes sense?

  5. well than, fuck engineering too. all weapons will be/are being used on us. us, one family. the beast has us warring against ourselves. and employs the top 10% of us to control the lower 90% of us. so fuck you , you dumb fucking proud engineers. shove that rail gun up your ass. i mean it. i do support the troops. by revealing our oneness. oneness does not bite itself. so why are you building these oh so wonderful weapons ? you stupid fucking assholes. perhaps you dont recognize your savior/brother/family/self in all that you meet. its time to say no to the systems of the beast. they work to remove the full human being from the equation. to create a weapons system with no mercy/compassion and no disobedience. we better disobey now. when it can still save us. you stupid proud engineers/doctors/generals/scientists/big money fucks/ and popes/queens/presidents. sober the fuck up. good thing we are not bodies.

  6. What IF a highly accurate high caliber (20mm?) rifle was incorporated INSIDE an artillery projectile? So the "round" is fired towards a tiny military target ….like a vehicle with a high value enemy leader inside etc …when the round is still miles away a live video feed with highly sensitive tracking …a very stable round but one that an enemy would know could not possibly reach their beloved leader ….They would still be laughing at the lame shot right about the time a video nerd jocky sitting at a gamer station would be carefully verifying that the payload/aerial robo snipe apparatus had locked on to the target and had all the flight time and point of impact algorithms active to have compensated for every possible known variable in movement of target and/or projectile…. long after enemy radar operators laughingly dismissed the original arty round having confirmed that it fell hopelessly short?, the little (little? lol) 20mm full metal jacketed tungsten cored/mercury centered round would be well on it's way at an unbelievable high rate of speed …the original artillery round's velocity PLUS the velocity of the recently fired 2O mm projectile …..maybe 2 miles a second or something? Would just annihilate the target vehicle along with person himself ….onlookers guarding the leader would just be slack jawed "WHAT in the HELL was THAT???" Hey even BETTER? Mount the artillery piece INSIDE a rocket, launched from a fast moving jet aircraft! The speed of plane plus the speed of the rocket plus the speed of the artillery shell finally all added to the velocity of the fired (finely aimed) remote operated "rifle"..the round would be molten when it hits 30,000 fps…..no armor in the world could thwart it! Comic book shit!

  7. am getting convinced. But being practical helps. Just saw the first page of the Hitler's book and he talks of destiny and being special and this and that. We know what happened to him at the end. A step further from clues and signs to something solid would make things easier and faster.

  8. The best rail guns are long and on land. Why? Where you watching this video?
    China probably has 1000 to 2000 rail guns on land that can hit California.

  9. A big expensive piece of shit charges to which are more expensive than ballistic missiles. Just another way to pull out more money.

  10. Why is it that you have to divulge secrets in military strategies on the internet so that other countries would copy and improve on it? It is dope or is it cockiness? You want other countries to know that yoy have this and that. Fine, but do you have to explain its functions and blue prints for the world to know? Then divulge area 51. Why keep it a secret? Other countries have ufo encounters too, you know.

  11. I know it sounds cool but the technology hasn't advanced beyond recognition. They just seem like advanced forms of their ancient counterparts. It really is unimpressive when we look at the advance or lack of in small arms. Yes I will agree that large guns like the rail gun is impressive, but a machine gun is almost unchanged from 100 years ago.

  12. I have invented a mono pole magnet. This rail gun has a problem with massive electrical charge melting rails, try a mono pole rail gun. Anyone in Defense Dept. read this?

  13. If an anti-asteroid system with such guns would be considered "weaponizing space", what about placing them on the dark side of the Moon where they can literally only point away from Earth?

  14. Need a 100% conductive and indestructible element…. When's the next trip to Pandora to get some unobtainium?

  15. The US Military's Most Powerful Gun would be something more like "atomic annie". Railguns are a waste of time and just hype compared to a conventional gun like a 15 inch or a RIM-161 rocket. If they shot those plates in the demo with a 15 inch gun there would be no testing site left, only a crater.

  16. Given current problems with it still in mid 2019, and the growing success of lasers( focused energy), for line of sight applications, the laser is a better bet and investment, imho.

    Also, it's possible to fire 5 inch shells 100km now (Italy's Oto Melara shells) .

    And the USA now have self propelled howitzers which shoot 60km.

    A large, power hungry gun, who's parts wear out quickly, may no longer be a good area of research, imho.

  17. the only issue with putting things into space with this technology is not only the massive electrical interference from the system itself that would likely destroy any and all electronics on board but the sheer G-force that would rip something of that size apart before it even made it to the end of the launch barrel or tube(or whatever mechanism they're using for launch). that NWS(Naval Warfare Systems) railgun is firing at ~6000 fps which is where the majority of the destructive force of this weapon comes from. i remember watching an early test from ~1999 or so in early development they had a much smaller one with a "test" satellite(size was about that of a bicycle) hanging in front of a 4" steel plate(was ~4-5 feet wide, ~3 feet tall and 4" thick), course they shot at near point blank ~10 feet or so, the projectile was a tungsten steel dart about the size of a no.2 pencil. the aftermath of the destructive test left the largest piece of the "test" satellite about the size of a walnut and the steel plate that was hanging behind it had a nice ~6" hole spalled clean through it. granted that maintaining that kind of velocity over a long distance isn't going to be that feasible but the speed due to the weight of the "dart" and that of gravity will be more than sufficient for it's intended purpose.

  18. Problem one is rail degradation. Problem two is projectile cost currently being at or in excess of $90,000.

  19. "This has backfired several times throughout history"
    The pun and understatement combo here brought me to my knees.

  20. Gotta love these machines that kill. Need to make a video showing what it does to those being targeted. When will the government deploy it at the Southern border?

  21. The important question: Is it not every Americans right to own a Railgun for home defense and possibly duck hunting ?

  22. These are American and British co developed weapons. Not specifically US only. And BAE is a British based company (with sites in other countries including the US) developing the Rail-gun.

  23. "This would nearly double the range of projectiles too, if it wasn't for the elevated wind resistance at speed." In other words less than double despite you showing double in your infographic….

  24. I recall a secure brief I attended in 1993 while on active duty where we learned about a rail gun that fired a 14 inch cube at 17,000fps. It was part of a program designed to shoot down enemy satellites. Been testing this for some time now.

  25. Al qaeda is still around. Then the whole planet would have been forced into muslimhood. But all reality some Muslim extremist group would of gotten there hands on a nuclear device and the world could possibly not exist. My theory anyway

  26. Your topic was very short and not very explainable,Take not if you do something explain why in detail to elicit more views through the engineering part. Have a good day cheers.

  27. One of the most powerful country's in the world and they have a lot of allies that will help them if war was to breakout

  28. at 1:36 everyone was duped…. "it would…..if…." you can make the same claim with a bow and arrow. This arrow would travel through its target 3 miles away at faster speeds…….if ….we were in space. Stupid.

  29. Have you looked into electro thermal chemical guns? They will probably be the best we can put in a tank and don’t have heat detonated explosives

  30. So they have a higher speed projectile that's a lightweight piece of shit. Neat. Why didn't they keep going with the testing to develope the rocket assisted and gps guided 16" rounds fired from the Iowa-class battleships? Oh that's right, who would want a 2700 lb explosive projectile traveling at mach 6+ in our modern civilized world. Then the whole "battleships are obsolete" mindset would need to be abandoned as well, and we wouldn't want that. lol

  31. If you separate strictly on magnetism and how come every time I see a real garden project out fired there’s a big fire in a big puff of smoke?

  32. You pretty much will have to design a new type of ship and find a way around this problem along with retro fitting ships for them complete overhaul maybe

  33. Yep. The fact the armature round must have parts nearly in contact with the rails with a massive electric arc being a side effect is something that will always plague the rail gun. I wonder why the Navy never looked at a stator coil gun (gauss gun). I guess the stator gun is just too complex.

  34. The Rail guns were made by the Russians but the muricans copied it and made it looks like it was made by the muricans.❤🇷🇺❤

  35. BAE is a big UK defense company they must be really pumping lots of tech into this to land a huge contract with the US navy ,among other platforms .

  36. Electro magnetic Rail.Gun for now is better use for home defense, located around the periphery of the island nation, in the future, if the power source bulky size can be reduce to be fitted in small battles then all should be armed with electro magnetic Rail Gun.

  37. as has been stated already, railguns might help non living matter to reach orbit by acting as the 1st stage on launch vehicle. Light gas guns which are sunk into the ocean likewise have been postulated which can also propel projectiles to great velocities but without the disadvantage of destroying the gun barrel and potentialy losing only a small part of the hydrogen used in the process.

    The types of things that could be launched to orbit using this type of system would for example be fuel, food, water, electronics, construction material, and so on. As long as the cargo fits inside the theoretical projectile and can survive 10,000g or more it could at least theoretically be sent into orbit using this kind of method.

    A new problem there is that the speeds reached would generate shock heating in the atmosphere similar to what returning orbital vehicles experience, though heatshields can be used to deal with this particular problem.

  38. That's really cool for killing, umm, one person, one time? No wonder the US gets their ass kicked in every war for the last 75 years by peasants with AK and RPGs. You tech parasite DOD/DARPA motherfuckers will create new and more expensive ways of killing a few peasants, as always. There's a billion peasants behind them. But don't worry—all of your workplaces are megaton-warhead targeted.

  39. Troublous Times Soon to ComeLDE 12The time of trouble, which is to increase until the end, is very near at hand. We have no time to lose. The world is stirred with the spirit of war. The prophecies of the eleventh of Daniel have almost reached their final fulfillment. – The Review and Herald, November 24, 1904.The time of trouble – trouble such as was not since there was a nation Daniel 12:1 – is right upon us, and we are like the sleeping virgins. We are to awake and ask the Lord Jesus to place underneath us His everlasting arms, and carry us through the time of trial before us. – Manuscript Releases 3:305 (1906).The world is becoming more and more lawless. Soon great trouble will arise among the nations – trouble that will not cease until Jesus comes. – The Review and Herald, February 11, 1904.We are on the very verge of the time of trouble, and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of are before us. – Testimonies for the Church 9:43 (1909).We are standing on the threshold of the crisis of the ages. In quick succession the judgments of God will follow one another – fire, and flood, and earthquake, with war and bloodshed. – Prophets and Kings, 278 LDE 12 – LDE 12.5

  40. Wars and DisastersLDE 24The tempest is coming and we must get ready for its fury by having repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord will arise to shake terribly the earth. We shall see troubles on all sides. Thousands of ships will be hurled into the depths of the sea. Navies will go down, and human lives will be sacrificed by millions. Fires will break out unexpectedly and no human effort will be able to quench them. The palaces of earth will be swept away in the fury of the flames. Disasters by rail will become more and more frequent. Confusion, collision, and death without a moment's warning will occur on the great lines of travel. The end is near, probation is closing. Oh, let us seek God while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near! – Messages to Young People, 89, 90 (1890).In the last scenes of this earth's history war will rage. There will be pestilence, plague and famine. The waters of the deep will overflow their boundaries. Property and life will be destroyed by fire and flood. We should be preparing for the mansions that Christ has gone to prepare for them that love Him. – Maranatha, 174 (1897). LDE 24 – LDE 24.2

  41. I'm not an expert in weapons or anything, but.. I'm pretty sure that the military doesn't show you their most-powerful weapons and just makes you think that this is the most powerful one.

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