Electromagnetic gun: will Europe do better than the United States?

Europe has just set up a consortium, called Pilum, intended to develop an electromagnetic cannon, a supersonic artillery weapon capable of reaching six times the speed of sound. A technological grail on which the Americans have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars without convincing results. Despite their limited budget, Europeans are nevertheless convinced that they have a card to play.

Off Target: US Navy's $500 Million Electromagnetic Rail Gun on ...

The Franco-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis (ISL) announced on June 17, 2020 the creation of a European consortium called Pilum ( Projectiles for Increased Long-range effects Using Electro-Magnetic railgun ) intended to develop a long-range electromagnetic gun, also known as a rail gun or railgun. Capable of propelling projectiles at hypersonic speed (more than 7,200 km / h, three times faster than missilesrailgun makes it possible to reach targets located more than 200 kilometers away.
It thus reduces the risk of exposure of the armed forces against a possible response, reduces flight time (which limits the risk of interception) and improves safety conditions, since there is no longer any propellant powder at handle and store. Finally, it is much more advantageous economically, the unit cost of such a shot being around 50,000 euros, against 850,000 euros for a conventional long-range missile type Scalp or 2.86 million euros for a naval cruise missile MdCN. A device that would “revolutionize artillery”, argues the consortium, which notably includes the French Nexter and Naval Group.

Instantaneous electrical power equivalent to that of a city of 500,000 inhabitants

On paper, the technique is ultra-simple (see above). In practice, this is far from the case. You must first be able to generate a large amount of energy in a very short period of time (of the order of four milliseconds), which means a phenomenal electric power ”  equivalent to that required for a city of 500,000 inhabitants ”, according to the ISL.

As a result, the energy generators are often very large, which represents a drawback for a system intended to be on board a ship. This gigantic intensity (several million amps ) also generates a Joule effectwhich heats the rails, also subject to intense friction. These therefore wear out extremely quickly, which can generate the formation of a luminous plasma . Finally, the electrical power required does not allow, in the current state, to fire at a high rate, essential in the anti-aircraft fight.