A few yards south of the laser experimentation, members of General Atomics ready their own prototype for a demonstration. Their weapon, a railgun, uses electricity to generate the propelling force for a round, and also uses a round without accelerants, eliminating any potential source for an explosion either prior to, or after, firing the weapon.
"Without a propellant the logistic questions are simplified," said Robert Taylor, who was involved with the payload and design. "You can't make an (improvised explosive device) out of any part of the projectile."
Instead the weapon uses speed as its method to deliver damage. The railgun has the ability to travel six times the speed of sound Taylor says there is potential for tremendous lethality at range.
The railgun operates using bus bars where electricity flows up one bar, across and arm and back down the other bar, returning to the power supply. The electricity is up to 1.7 million amps and the curvature of the path creates the electromagnetic source to accelerate the projectile, said Taylor.
"It does not need (an accelerant)," said Taylor. "It's moving six times the speed of sound. If you had an explosive charge, the fragments off of that would be moving slower (than the propellant)."
An interesting difference between the railgun and a traditional weapon is the shape of the barrel. Because the weapon does not use any accelerants, there is no need for the weapon to be round (and seal the propellant gas), so the barrel of the railgun is square. In addition a separate capacitor stores the energy in a system whose technology is more than a decade old, said Taylor. It is four times more energy dense meaning operators now can get the same power from a box a quarter of the size. In addition the power system is set up in a modular format, meaning if one is lost, the others can be manipulated to pick up the slack. The result is a piece of equipment that is more tolerant of battle-field damage. Its modular style makes it flexible for work and replacement, said Taylor.
As the projectile leaves the weapon, a lower portion separates from the body as the protective continues. One will be destroyed immediately, said Taylor, and the other will go to the side. Because of the speed, the projectile itself requires a heat resistant nose, typically made of tungsten. The weapon's speed and lack of explosive allows the user to reduce the amount of collateral damage. Its precision makes it multi-functional for aerial targets as well as ground targets such as buildings or antennas. Its speed gives it the potential ability to intercept long range targets.
"You'll have to watch the muzzle flash and then quickly shift your gaze to the target," said Taylor. "If you wait to hear the gun, it's over. You will not see the effects on the target. And don't blink."
General Atomics' Railgun System Demonstrated at U.S. Army's Maneuver and Fires Integration Experiment Event