Pentagon Hopes Its Supergun Will Help to Counter Russia, China

© Photo : railgun prototype
Electromagnetic railgun prototype - Sputnik International
It might not look as impressive as the F-35 fighter jet or the Zumwalt-class destroyer, but US defense officials insist that the Navy's newest weapon, the railgun, will not only become a force to be reckoned with – it will change the way we fight and alter the balance of power in the world as a result. Russian experts remain unconvinced.

The railgun's capabilities are impressive. It can fire a projectile at an initial speed of 4,500 miles an hour, piercing seven steel plates and leave a 5-inch hole, Julian E. Barnes wrote for the Wall Street Journal. The weapon has a maximum range of 125 miles.

​Although the railgun, in development for a decade, transforms a 25-pound projectile into nothing short of a battlefield meteorite obliterating anything on its path, the weapon does not use gunpowder or any explosives. It is instead powered by electromagnetic rails.

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US defense officials say that it could be used to destroy virtually anything, including aircraft, tanks, ships, conventional and cruise missiles, etc. US Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the Office of Naval Research, even said that the railgun "is going to change the way we fight."

The railgun's additional advantage comes from the fact that it is a significantly more affordable weapon than the Pentagon's latest military procurements. A single Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II costs approximately $100 million apiece, while a projectile for the railgun is estimated to cost up to $50,000.

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Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon hopes that the new technology will help the US armed forces to offset cuts to staff and weapons. Its costs and capabilities also mean that it could be used to create a railgun-based missile defense. This could become a reality in a decade.

The experimental weapon comes at a time when Russia and China have significantly advanced their military capabilities and the Pentagon, as well as US defense analysts worry that the days of America's undisputed military advantage are over.

The deadly new supergun is meant to change this. The weapon, US officials hope, will help "to keep the US ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry," Barnes noted.

Yet despite the Pentagon's aspirations, the railgun will not be able to change the existing balance of power in the world, defense analyst Alexei Fenenko of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) told RIA Novosti. Instead they will most likely be used as a "psychological factor."

Moreover, the technology is apparently not new.

"They developed similar weapons back in the 1950s as part of a program aimed at creating tactical nuclear weapons to protect Western Germany from the Soviets. As usual, something new is a well-forgotten old," defense analyst Alexei Fenenko of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) explained.

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