The US Navy has reportedly fired hypervelocity projectiles intended for electromagnetic railguns out of a 40-year-old deck gun that is standard issue on many cruisers and destroyers in hopes of providing a low-cost defense solution against drones and cruise missiles, a new report says.
Twenty hypervelocity projectiles were fired from the USS Dewey (DDG-105), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, as part of a test conducted by the US Navy and the Defense Department's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), unnamed officials told USNI News Monday.
The test was part of an SCO effort to prove that a 40-year-old deck gun filled with high-tech ammunition could effectively shoot down drones and various types of cruise missiles, USNI News added. The report does not mention if the tests were successful.
However, USNI's Sam LaGrone called the test "wildly successful."
BAE Systems, a British defense firm responsible for the design and manufacturing of the hypervelocity projectile, describes the round as a "next-generation, common, low drag, guided projectile capable of executing multiple missions for a number of gun systems, such as the Navy 5-Inch; Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm systems; and future electromagnetic (EM) railguns."
The Navy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and several decades into the development of electromagnetic gun technology. But, in recent years, the efforts have hit a brick wall, because of problems and challenges fundamental to the technology. That is why the Navy is rushing into hypervelocity projectiles, which can be fired from existing guns without barrel modification. The rounds fly faster and have a greater range than traditional rounds, along with a relatively inexpensive price tag.
The hypervelocity projectile is a low-cost alternative to expensive short-range defenses, such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, each costs $2 million.
"If you think about the kinds of threats you might face in the Middle East, the lower-end cruise missiles or a larger UAV, now you have a way to shoot them down that doesn't require you use a $2 million ESSM or $1 million RAM, because a hypervelocity projectile — even in the highest-end estimates have it in the $75,000 to $100,000 range, and that's for the fanciest version of it with an onboard seeker," Bryan Clark of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told USNI News.
An added benefit of hypervelocity projectile is the gun's high rate of fire and much larger magazine capacity.
“You can get 15 rounds a minute for an air defense mission as well as a surface-to-surface mission,” Clark said. “That adds significant missile defense capacity when you think that each of those might be replacing an ESSM or a RAM missile. They’re a lot less expensive.”
USNI says the new round is being prepped for the possible use with ground-based M114 155 mm howitzer pieces and the Marines to provide limited air defense support for forward-deployed troops in war zones.
The hypervelocity projectile offers the Navy, as well as other service branches, an alternative to the electromagnetic railgun.
While the US Navy falls behind the technological curve of railguns and opts for an alternative, one of our recent reports shows that China may have already put a working railgun on a warship. Is America losing its edge against China?