In Brief
  • Military research initiatives are now focusing their efforts on the development of a new type of weapon: the railgun.
  • Russian researchers have now devised a railgun prototype that's capable of lobbing a plastic projectile at 3 km/sec. (1.8 mi/sec.)

Explosions and gunfire—once the hallmarks of modern warfare—will soon be a thing of the past. Military initiatives are focusing their efforts on the development of a new weapon that relies on electromagnetic conductors: the railgun.

Now, a team of Russian scientists have successfully tested their first railgun prototype, which they say can fire shells at 3 kilometers per second—fast enough to tear through any type of armor that exists today.

Credit: scientificrussia.ru

While it shows great promise to become the next generation of military artillery, Russia is eyeing other applications for it, including the possibility of using the gun to bring cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The railgun is revolutionary in terms of how much it can accelerate the projectile, and tests conducted at the Institute of High Temperatures’ branch in Shatura (a location just outside Moscow) demonstrated immense projectile speed—3 km/sec. (1.8 mi/sec.), which is half of what booster rockets need to shirk Earth’s gravity.

In addition to Russia, the United States is also working on its own version of the railgun, but their tests have used significantly bigger projectiles. For example, their next sea trial will attempt to fire a 44-lb. (20 kg) projectile at hypersonic speeds. In contrast, Russia’s railgun projectile is a thousand times smaller, and reached speeds of 7,200 mph (11,000 km/h).

In the demonstration below, the gun is shown firing a 15-gram plastic cylinder that can cut through a thick aluminum plate.