Futuristic Navy weapon being tested in San Diego

Railgun uses electromagnetic power to fire

SAN DIEGO - It's been tested and fired in a lab setting on the East Coast for years, but for the first time, the Navy's electro-magnetic railgun project is out of the lab and on a ship.

"I believe this is the future," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, the Chief of Naval Research, as he stood between two prototype weapons that have the ability to fire a projectile at speeds of over 5,000 miles per hour.

The prototypes, by BAE Systems and General Atomics, have been lab-tested for years. The Navy brought both to San Diego to begin testing in a maritime environment.

"We'll be using the BAE version for this phase of testing," Klunder said.

Unlike standard missiles or shells used in a 5-inch deck gun, hundreds of small projectiles can be placed on a ship. While none carries an explosive charge, each one has a guidance system.

"If an enemy is in the sky, it's going to die, in terms of defending our nation," Klunder said.

The system is now aboard the Navy's new Joint High Speed Vessel, which -- as the name implies -- is a high-speed cargo and troop carrier operated by the Military Sealift Command.

Actual firing of the weapon won't happen for at least a couple of years as the Navy plans to slowly integrate it with sailors and shipboard systems.

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