The U.S. Navy continues to develop an electromagnetic railgun to arm its future warships and a new "large surface combatant" to eventually replace Ticonderoga-class cruisers might be the weapon's first home.
The Office of Naval Research began developing the railgun in 2005. By 2012, a technology demonstrator was firing hyper velocity projectiles at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia.
In 2015, the Navy announced plans to test the weapon from the USNS Trenton, an expeditionary fast transport. By 2017, the Navy was talking about arming the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, a Zumwalt-class destroyer currently being built at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works.
Plans at the time called for a railgun to replace the 155 millimeter gun mounted ahead of the Lyndon B. Johnson's deck house.
The Navy's interest has waned since but it is still committing annual funding for the project to perfect the technically difficult railgun. Its fiscal 2021 budget submission requests $9.5 million for continued development of the railgun.
It seems to have not, however, committed any additional development funding for the railgun from 2022 to 2025. Recent developments in building the Navy's "Future Fleet," which will consist of more than 500 manned and robotic ships, has apparently reignited interest in perfecting the railgun as the main armament aboard one new class of warship.
This new warship class, which is called the "large surface combatant," will eventually replace the Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Navy plans to buy the first of these warships in the late 2020s.
It hasn't released much about this new warship class because it still hasn't made up its mind as to what it really is. In August, Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, director of surface warfare, said the top-level requirements for the ship class will be forwarded to the chief of naval operations by the end of the year.
In early 2017, the Navy said the large surface combatant will be one piece of its family-of-systems vision for a future surface force.
The biggest champions of making the railgun a viable weapon are some members of Congress. These politicians say integrating the new hyper velocity projectiles with the Future Fleet, while equipping the next generation surface warship with railguns, is the best of both worlds.
The electromagnetic railgun uses electricity instead of gunpowder to fire projectiles. Railguns use magnetic fields created by high electrical currents to accelerate a projectile to Mach 6, or 8,700 kilometers an hour. The velocity is sufficient to give the railgun an effective range of 110 nautical miles, or 200 kilometers on land.