The U.S. Navy Has a Mach 7 Cannon, and Raytheon Is Helping to Build It

The U.S. military has a reputation as a somewhat secretive organization. But in at least one respect, the Pentagon is one of the most "open" organizations on the planet.

Ready to aim and fire -- behind the scenes at the Navy's new electromagnetic railgun. Source: U.S. Navy.

Take the U.S. Navy's new superweapon, the electromagnetic railgun, for example (pictured above). Capable of lobbing projectiles at speeds in excess of Mach 7 -- 5,000 mph -- to destroy targets as much as 110 miles distant. Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, the Navy's chief engineer, calls the EM railgun "an incredible new offensive capability for the U.S. Navy."

It's the kind of project you'd expect to be labeled "top secret..."

But instead, the Navy's outlining its progress every step of the way -- and in public, where investors can watch.

Schematic of potential targets of an electromagnetic railgun. Source: U.S. Navy.

Sometime before the end of 2016, the Navy says it will conduct sea trials on a working prototype EM railgun aboard one of its new Joint High Speed Vehicles. Before that happens, though, the Navy is detailing the award of new contracts to develop the weapons system, and naming names on who will build it.

Names like General Atomics, BAE Systems (NASDAQOTH: BAESY  ) (LSE: BA  ) and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) .

Naming names
Over the past few days, the Pentagon has announced that two of these companies -- BAE, which built one of the Navy's two prototype railguns (General Atomics built the other), and Raytheon, an expert in "smartening up" unguided cannon rounds -- are now hard at work ramping up the power available to operate the railgun.

BAE was originally awarded a modest, $11.6 million railgun contract back in December 2011. It's now getting a fourfold boost in funding as the Navy awards it a $43.2 million follow-on contract to continue R&D work on the railgun's "Integrated Power Systems power load modules" through December 2016.

Raytheon, which got its first railgun power load module contract (worth $10.1 million) in October 2011, is getting nearly as big an increase in funding. Its $33.2 million contract "modification," announced last month, is likewise expected to run through the end of 2016.

What it means to investors
With fiscal 2013 sales of $27.9 billion, and $23.7 billion respectively (according to S&P Capital IQ figures), even these multimillion-dollar railgun contracts represent mere drops in the revenue bucket for BAE and Raytheon. Long-term investors, though, should focus on what these contracts could mean for the companies in the future.

The U.S. Navy sank $240 million into R&D on its railgun through "Phase I" of the project. Now in the middle of Phase II, the Navy expects to spend another quarter-billion dollars to "advance the technology for transition to an acquisition program." So already, we're looking at a $500 million weapons program -- before a single combat-ready railgun has been purchased.

Going forward, investors will want to keep an eye out for additional development contracts at BAE and Raytheon, preparatory to the 2016 test date. So far, we haven't heard of any major hitches in the railgun's development. So assuming things continue moving ahead smoothly, we'll want to next look for contracts to develop and upgrade the $25,000-per-projectile ammunition that will form the literal "shooting end" of this new weapons system.

My guess is that Raytheon's work on developing the incredibly accurate, long-range Excalibur cannon ammunition for the Army gives this defense contractor a leg up on winning railgun ammunition contracts.

$70,000 on land, how much money might Raytheon make from applying "Excalibur" technology to sea-borne railgun ammunition? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Wild card
One final, possible player in ammunition contracts would be Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , which is currently assisting DARPA in developing a new technology for equipping "dumb" munitions with internal chips for guidance to their target -- "Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigators," or C-SCAN. Key to Northrop's involvement would be C-SCAN's ability to survive a high velocity, Mach 7 discharge, which is not yet proven. But if it works as billed, C-SCAN could enable Navy railguns to hit targets more than a hundred miles away, and without any need to rely on jammable GPS transmissions to find their target.

Northrop's work for DARPA is starting out at a low dollar value of just $648,000. But like BAE's and Raytheon's work on the Navy's new railgun, it's a project with real, transformative potential. And thanks to the Pentagon's penchant for detailing its progress in press releases, investors can follow the money every step of the way.

Make sure you don't miss any of the news as the Navy's new electromagnetic railgun moves from concept to completion. "Like" our defense news page today.

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Read/Post Comments (19) | Recommend This Article (35)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 12:04 PM, peterwolf wrote:

    "The U.S. military has a reputation as a somewhat secretive organization..."

    It does?? It seems to me that every dang military secret we have is known to Russia and China within days of it becoming a 'secret'.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 1:32 PM, networldsystems wrote:

    How cool is that?!! Anyone can build a railgun, however scaling it up to do what the Navy wants is a far different creature. New US combatant platform architecture includes an integrated power system (IPS). The IPS and its complex control systems makes this weapon and many others possible. The whole architecture is simple on paper, and incredibly complicated in practice. It will take many years for adversaries to implement similar systems.

    Practically every defense contractor is involved in the DD(X) project, which will presumably house the first deployed railgun.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 2:36 PM, atong46 wrote:

    Seems all military secrets are well laid out by the US military for the Russians and Chinese to know and steal. Might as well give the blue prints to them so they'll not a have a hard time hacking into the US Dept. of Defense computers.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 2:38 PM, profmes wrote:

    Specifically, what need is not being met by conventional weapons that our current military is already using, for us to spend for our government to spend billions of dollars to develop this technology. It might have some application in peaceful space exploration as a relatively cheap method of "shooting" things into orbit. But such actions would have to be limited to raw materials. The G forces created inside a craft shot by a rail gun would turn humans to jelly and destroy any kind of equipment that had been manufactured. Machines such as rail guns have a high "Star Wars" kind of "cool factor" about them and are fun to watch being used, but aside from their dubious entertainment value, they're just a waste of resources and money by an already bloated military industrial complex.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 2:56 PM, rw93003 wrote:

    Sounds good, we can sink the whole Chinese Navy with 2 or 3 shots if they're lined up just right.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 3:50 PM, TMFDitty wrote:

    Cost of Tomahwak missile: $1.4 million.

    Cost of guided railgun projectile with similar destructive power: $25,000.

    That's basically the rationale.

    Plus, 2'-long projectiles take up much less space, meaning you can fit a lot more of them into your magazine.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 3:54 PM, j1rose wrote:

    1/4 billion or more and not one is ready to deploy . Then 25K per round . The advantage was supposed to be cheap ammunition.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 4:13 PM, fugno wrote:

    It's just another weapons platform that we can't afford. Cruise Missiles aren't that fast but they are doing the job. More Admirals getting lucrative jobs once they retire.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 4:57 PM, gunnyk wrote:

    My question. How long does it take to rearm this weapon? We know everything about it but that.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 9:03 PM, trebzak wrote:

    A couple of points:

    I work for a defense contractor. Take my word for it -- there are *many* military programs that our foes know nothing about. Security is taken very seriously.

    @gunnyk: Good question. I haven't worked on EM rail guns for 20 years (university-level research), so maybe they've figured out how, but 20 years ago EM rail guns of the size discussed in this article were NOT rapid-fire weapons. I saw some small EM guns that could rapid-fire, but not big ones.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 9:24 PM, whedden wrote:

    How is this news?


    I have been showing the video of the picture above to my students for >3 years now...

    I am glad this columnist finally found YouTube.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 10:39 PM, manga wrote:

    They only tell you what they want you to know but, you never really get the full store.

    And you can be sure that other country's will not get there hands on this for many years to come. And by than this will be old news and we will have something newer and better.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 1:01 AM, NKAli wrote:

    Frankly, it amazes me that technology can give the impression of being limitless and indestructible. However, all of it can go take a hike or enter the garbage bin if it is being used to destroy, annihilate, kill, and maim living beings including humans (pun intended).

    Of course, it is aimed at world domination because of man's inherent feeling of insecurity on today's global stage of wealth.

    Let it be used as a deterrent like nuclear bombs, which can today destroy the world several times over with no nation, possessing it, agreeing to reduce their stockpiles. Call me mad...yes, call me mad. However, a deterrent / defensive capability is a necessity with an equal amount if not more going into reducing the abject effects of poverty the world over. Sorry, but this is mindless savagery. Salams

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 1:04 AM, dallas75216 wrote:

    Pat Buchanan's take on our secrets

    in his article Whose War? mar 2003

    "Israel...... sold U.S. weapons technology to China, including the Patriot, the Phoenix air-to-air missile, and the Lavi fighter, which is based on F-16 technology. Only direct U.S. intervention blocked Israel’s sale of our AWACS system."

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 3:54 AM, w0rdsss wrote:

    If this can be implemented and accurate enough to destroy an enemy ship at 110 miles distance - it may just be worth it (though i dont foresee that accuracy). Otherwise, thats mighty expensive.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 7:34 AM, engbulldog3 wrote:

    Defense contractor's feeding at the "trough". Not sure if they stated the Navy needs it or wants it? Solution, surface to surface missile, air to surface missile! Or a slingshot with one huge rubber band!

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 11:37 AM, t4 wrote:

    Do you feel that enormous sucking sound coming from your wallet as the govt siphons more tax dollars on a useless project in the name of defense.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 12:51 PM, SgtStedanko wrote:

    In response to the folks saying this is not needed, let me remind you 47 sailors died in 1989 when the center room exploded. That would not happen with a rail gun and also increase survivability of the vessel.

    Also,an artillery round (a dumb, unguided projectile) costs about $1500 and require you to fire multiple times to hit the target and precision guided rounds are $20,000 and above.


  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 10:33 PM, reddwarfone wrote:

    I don't care what anyone says. I like the idea of a rail gun that can fire rounds at speeds of 5,000 miles per hour! Wow! This is so cool! Thumbs up for the U.S. Military!

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As a defense writer for The Motley Fool, I focus on defense and aerospace stocks. My job? Every day of the week, I'm monitoring the news, figuring out the winners and losers, and tracking down the promising companies for you to invest in. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the most important developments in defense & aerospace, and other great stories.

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