The Navy has begun formally studying the possibility of putting an electromagnetic railgun on the third ship of the new Zumwalt-class of destroyers, the chief of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said Thursday.
Vice Adm. William Hilarides, however, cautioned that integrating the massive gun onto the vessel will be a major challenge, and would require removing one of the two Advanced Guns Systems planned for the class of three land attack destroyers.
“We have begun real studies as opposed to just a bunch of guys sitting around,” Hilarides told a couple reporters on the sidelines of the Naval Future Forces Science and Technology Expo. “Real engineering studies are being done.”
Hilarides said the final ship of the class, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002), is the most suitable candidate for the railgun because it will come out of production with a more mature design than its two predecessors.
Adding the gun to the ship would not come until after the vessel has been completed and delivered to the Navy, Hilarides said. Delivery is expected to take place around 2018. Removing an AGS would also deprive the warship of half of its support firepower for attacking ashore.
“Without taking something off you’re not putting on a many-ton (railgun) system,” Hilarides said, adding: “What you use a gun for you have half.”
The Office of Naval Research has been developing and testing the prototype electromagnetic railgun with contractor BAE Systems. BAE is also the builder of the AGS.
The railgun, which uses a high-powered electromagnetic pulse to fire projectiles at least 100 miles, is scheduled to undergo its first at-sea testing aboard a Joint High Speed Vessel in fiscal 2016.
During his appearance at the expo, Hilarides said among the challenges of getting the gun on the Johnson are weight and space margins, generating the required power, and engineering the interfaces to integrate the gun into fire control and combat systems.
“The work’s not done, not even close,” he said.
The Navy has placed tremendous value on the railgun as a future weapon system, citing its ability to launch projectiles at high speeds against surface threats. Less space would be required for storing the projectiles, so the ship could carry more of them compared to traditional munitions. And because it the projectiles don’t need gunpowder, it makes the ship less vulnerable if it were to be hit by an enemy, Navy officials say.
Chief Of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert first announced the idea of putting the railgun on the Zumwalt class a day earlier at the expo hosted by ONR and the American Society of Naval Engineers (Defense Daily, Feb. 5).
The ships, the largest ever built to be called a destroyer, will already have twice the power generation capacity needed to operate all of the systems going onto the class, meaning there would be plenty of capacity to fire the railgun, Greenert said.
Greenert said the railgun has the potential to be adapted to take out air threats and possibly ballistic missiles. He said he’d like to see the range of the system doubled to 200 miles. He also noted the value it would bring to air warfare, citing the $25,000-dollar cost of a projectile compared to spending $1 million on missile.
General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, is the builder of the DDG-1000 hulls.