The US Navy has announced plans to install a prototype electromagnetic railgun for further development aboard the Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket. The tests, slated for 2016, are intended to help mature the future tactical design of the weapon system, regarded by the chief of naval research as the future of naval combat.
With the potential to fire projectiles out to a range of 110 nautical miles, and at a fraction of the cost of a missile, railguns work by using an electromagnetic force, known as the Lorenz Force, to rapidly accelerate and launch a projectile between two conductive rails. A precise high-power electric pulse is delivered to the rails where the magnetic field is generated.
Aside from their small operating costs, railguns also have the safety advantage of not requiring gunpowder or high explosive warheads. Projectiles are launched at such high velocity – around mach seven – that the target is destroyed by kinetic energy alone.