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Local defense contractor General Atomics will receive almost $12.3 million from the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, the Department of Defense announced on Wednesday. The money will be used to fund “research and development activities associated with integrated power systems power load modules design and pulsed power loads for future surface combatants.”

Translation: General Atomics is continuing work begun in the 1980s on a device it calls a naval railgun. These guns use pulses of electricity instead of conventional explosives to fire objects, and previous tests in which the company participated have shown that a 7 pound projectile could be fired at speeds of 5,400 miles per hour. The company’s website estimates that a guided missile could reach a target 200 nautical miles (about 230 miles) away in 6 minutes.

“With the advantages of hypervelocity launch at speeds in excess of seven times the speed of sound, EM Railgun provides game changing possibilities for both long range Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) of missions far inland (+200 nautical miles) and for ship defense,” according to General Atomics’ website.

Railguns also make non-traditional barrel shapes possible – that is, the objects they fire do not necessarily have to be round. Consideration for using the technology to one day launch spacecraft is also currently being explored.

Work on the project will take place in San Diego and is expected to run through October 2016, according to the Department of Defense.

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Visduh Nov. 4, 2011 @ 8:32 p.m.

As far as defense contracts go, this one is small potatoes. $12.3 million might keep a modest research and development group going for a year or two. When they get a contract for $12.3 Billion, then it would be news.

Interesting concept though. But it is nothing very new--it has been discussed theoretically for a long time.


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