A high-speed camera image of the Office of Naval Research's Electromagnetic Railgun firing a world-record setting 33 mega-joule shot. Photo: US Navy via AFP/John F Williams

The US Navy’s chief of naval operations told a congressional subcommittee last week that the US is “fully invested” in developing the railgun as a futuristic naval weapon and that the effort is very much alive.

The electromagnetically fired railgun is being touted as a potential counter measure against Chinese anti-ship missiles. China is also reportedly developing such weapons.

“[We are] fully invested in railgun; we continue to test it,” Admiral John Richardson was quoted by military.com as telling a House appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday last week. “We’ve demonstrated it at lower firing rates and […] shorter ranges. Now we have to do the engineering to, sort of, crank it up and get it at the designated firing rates, at the 80- to 100-mile range.”

Richardson rebuffed reports in the US media in December that the navy is pulling the plug on the program. He says developing the railgun faces challenges involving range and building a gun barrel that can withstand the heat and pressure of launching projectiles. But he noted that researchers were “doubling down” on the issues.

Electromagnetic railguns (EMRGs) and related hypervelocity projectiles (HVPs) tap electromagnetic forces to propel metal projectiles without powder charges. Their ability to hit sea, air and land targets at devastating speeds of up to 7,800 miles per hour at ranges of 150 km makes using explosive warheads unnecessary.

Asia Times reported in a February 20 story that the navy is far from dropping its efforts to develop the new weapon and is preparing to pour millions more into the project in the 2019 fiscal year.