Friday, December 8, 2017

A Rail Gun Myopia.

Make no mistake--I get it: new technology, electric power, some futuristic looking setup and a nice demo pictures and... and... drum roll--a promise of new capability. This is how the US Navy's Rail Gun program was and is being "sold". For people who are not well-versed in naval warfare I may make a simplified description of several major geometric figures which define it:

1. A straight line (angles--bearing, azimuth, course, path etc.). The derivative of this line is a directed segment aka vector--matters great deal; 

2. A sector--well, it is self-explanatory;

3. Most important: A Circle--it's radius being a range of anything from radar to weapons. It's first derivative being a sphere which either protrudes (with great deformations) up--into the air, or down--into the water. 

Why is this important? It is important since this is how any decent naval professional views the world around himself when at the sea on a combat patrol.  Modern combat technology increased the radii of those naval circles tremendously, that, in its turn, brought a revolutionary change to naval and air (and even ground) combat. This became possible, apart from generally incredible development of C4ISR capabilities, due to the combat ranges of  anti-shipping cruise missiles (ASCM) growing by the order of magnitude since 1960s. And here is the issue: we already know that we live in a hyper-sonic paradigm with modern ASCMs capable of launch almost 700 kilometers (700/1.852=378 nautical miles, or 437 statute miles) from the target just on target's current (or even obsolescent) geographic coordinates. For air-launched ASCMs such as X-32 the range grows to 1000 kilometers. The salvo of missiles launched from the surface combatant or from submarine from this maximum distance will reach the position in between 20 and 5 minutes--depends on the velocity. Now draw the circle with the radius of 700 kilometers--you may scale it (say, 7 centimeters) on the piece of paper to do so. We count the area: pi x 700^2= 1, 538, 600 sq. kilometers. This will be, roughly, of course, the area you would be able (granted reliable targeting information) to cover with you ASCMs, apart from the fact that your ASMC DO have active radar (and other) seekers which have the range of detection of surface targets up to 70 kilometers. Here is what the area of 1.5 million square kilometers looks like, roughly. 

This is the circle--range which allows one to keep under the aim the territory which is roughly a half of Western Europe. By 2020s we all will live in a hyper-sonic (M=5+) cruise missile paradigm. We also know that 3M22 did reach M=8, we also can see ranges to grow even further, AI becoming even more sophisticated, trajectories varying from sea-skimming to stratospheric extreme maneuvering--all making those missiles NON-interceptible by any existing and short to mid-term perspective anti-missile means. And the question then is this: which new "capabilities" does the rail gun program provide? The answer is--none, zilch, nada. 

The Navy’s Much-Hyped Electromagnetic Railgun May End Up Dead In The Water

It is an interesting piece but I disagree with the title--it is not "May End Up", it already "Ended Up" as nothing but some technology demonstrator for hipsters. A Tesla of the weapon systems. It became a classic case of "polishing a cannon ball in hopes that it will fly further."  The projectile (which costs an arm and a leg) of rail gun flies with Mach=6? OK, did those rail gun enthusiasts check modern ships' designs as of lately? No, well--they better start learning fast that most modern ships will succumb to a regular high explosive shell of any modern naval gun with caliber of 76 mm and higher. But get this, boys and girls:

In 2015, SCO realized that the HVP, originally conceived as a specialized shell of the railgun, was just as effective when fired from a conventional powder cannons like the Army’s 105mm and 155mm M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers and the Navy’s deck-mounted Mk 45 5-inch guns. A May 2016 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment found that large caliber guns could fire an HVP between 10 and 30 nautical miles at Mach 3, faster than conventional unguided rounds. We thought railguns were something we were really going to go after,” then-Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. in May 2016. “But it turns out that powder guns firing the same hypervelocity projectiles gets you almost as much as you would get out of the electromagnetic rail gun, but it’s something we can do much faster.”
But, but they said that the round originally should fly the whole 100 nautical miles when fired from the rail gun. Assuming it would have been that (I doubt it greatly, but just for the sake of argument), this is how rail gun range would compare (rail gun in blue) to a capability of ASCMs:

Some will say that I miss the point and those projectiles would be great against some third world shitholes, but, wait a minute, against shiholes without any competent and well armed forces even regular shells are doing just fine. Same effect for a much smaller expense. Does it mean that those whom the United States got used to bomb with impunity into the stone age now developed an immunity to a classic 5-inch shell or good ole Tomahawk and now could only be scared shitless by new projectile fired from the rail gun? Obviously not, but now, as it was the case with Israel attacking Syria in 2013, modern ASCMs can easily out-range and outperform any projectile fired from any rail gun, especially when they have a good targeting and can reach far beyond the horizon. Will such missiles proliferate? You bet. They already do. Iran eventually will reach some serious anti-shipping capabilities, China and India--they are getting there. So, what will be the point then to bring the knife to a gun fight? This is the main, existential question to American R&D and procurement practices, which Colonel Daniel Davies called "an outright danger to the nation. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this threat better than the Pentagon’s dysfunctional acquisition system."
We entered a missile paradigm some time ago and today missile technology takes us to a completely new capabilities that change not only tactics, they change the outlook of operations and of strategy. No amount of the prohibitively expensive exotic and useless in real combat technology is going to change it. Ranges, velocities, maneuverability,  AI, stealthiness of missiles will only continue to grow until some new technological paradigm unfolds--probably with full robotics, actual combat lasers and other energy weapons which will change the nature of war, but for now: 100 miles range, projectile of M=6, try harder to impress anyone with any knowledge. For now, however, these good ol' guys don't go anywhere and they are there to provide relatively short range solutions both against surface baddies and against shore--a fraction of cost of the rail gun and a very satisfactory effect. 


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