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The US Navy’s experimental railgun – an electromagnetic projectile launcher – has been grabbing headlines and making waves ever since it was revealed that the weapon has left the realm of science fiction.

The railgun is reportedly capable of firing projectiles at seven times the speed of sound, and a fully operational version could soon find a new home on the state-of-the-art Zumwalt-class warship the USS Lyndon B Johnson.

The railgun was scheduled for operational trials this year, with several candidates among the Navy’s fleet, but Admiral Pete Fanta has pushed for skipping sea trials and deploying fully operational versions as soon as 2018.

This weapon, developed by BAE Systems, could provide a low-cost replacement to conventional missiles, according to sources in the US Navy.

Rather than relying on the explosive forces of traditional cannons, the railgun uses magnetic forces to sling projectiles at speeds up to Mach 7.

The railgun now features a ‘pulse’ system that will soon allow it to repeatedly fire projectiles with extremely high accuracy.

The final weapon is expected to have a range of some 177 kilometres.

The Zumwalt-class is designed as a land-attack ship and with the 78 megawatts of electricity produced by its  new Rolls Royce turbine generators provides a perfect test-bed for the weapon.

The Zumwalt is also furnished with a new operating system, better equipped to deal with the newest weaponry. Additionally, the Zumwalt is a stealth warship. Its new design reduced its radar impact dramatically.

With all these newfangled improvements, the Zumwalt is truly a prototype for the warship of the future.