The U.S. Navy's electromagnetic railgun was meant to be hailed as the ultimate weapon of the future. A super-powered canon that can obliterate its target from 100 nautical miles away at speeds of Mach 6, or 4,500 mph, it would have been impressive, to say the least.
However, following years of slowing development, it's looking less and less likely that the railgun will grace our presence anytime soon. The project is not being completely shut down, but a lot less effort and money are currently going into it.
Will it forever be stuck in the development stage?
Why is the railgun not seeing the light of day yet?
"The railgun itself has overcome all the required technical hurdles, but the systems simply aren't in place to take advantage of its capability and speed — the fire control systems, the communications link with a command center," a source with direct knowledge of the program explained to Task & Purpose. "If there's no funding, the program can't move forward."
Since the project was conceived in 2003, the Navy's budget into the railgun has been $500 million in research and development. The budget request as part of the 2021 fiscal year was $9.5 million, down from $15 million requested for the 2020 fiscal year, and down again from $28 million the year before.
That said, this doesn't mean the project is completely shut down. There have been recent advancements which have been promising for the railgun, for instance, it went through some critical system tests last year. However, shipboard testing has been pushed back.
The tricky part is to move the railgun from its development stage into the procurement one. "Transitioning military technology efforts from the research and development phase to the procurement phase can sometimes be a challenge," as a Congressional Research Service report on the Navy's directed energy efforts explains. "Some military technology efforts fail to make the transition."
As of now, the electromagnetic railgun project is very much still alive and ongoing. It's just hard to know when that'll change.