Thread Tools
Old 09-15-2013, 06:05 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 42
Railgun as Sniper Replacement - Feasible?

Hi all,

I recently re-read some articles on railgun technology for large naval vessels. Obviously there are major difficulties even at that scale - from having a sufficient energy source to energy dissipation to misalignment of the rails after a few shots.

However, the potentially greater speed of a railgun projectile leads to both increased range and reduced drop / wind effects over a given distance. Is there any possibility of using smaller railguns in applications where we currently need highly trained snipers with traditional rifles, or are the technical limitations too great at a smaller scale?

I'm not suggesting that a railgun could actually be small enough to be carried by a person (unlike in many video games). Perhaps a flying drone could have a built-in railgun and store a sufficient electrical charge for one or two shots? Or could military ground vehicles have a computer-controlled railgun mounted that could reliably hit a target with each shot? With the speed of a railgun projectile, would gravitational and wind effects be sufficiently small (over a mile or two) that a computer could aim at a human-sized target reliably?

If the above is TL;DR, in short: is it possible / worth it to develop computer-aimed railguns that take out individual human targets, rather than big ones that sink ships?
Old 09-15-2013, 06:17 PM
Guest
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: California
Posts: 38,296
Quote:
Originally Posted by TnTangent View Post
I'm not suggesting that a railgun could actually be small enough to be carried by a person (unlike in many video games).
I note that in the Wiki article on railguns, rails only centimeters long are proposed for one theoretical application. So if you could invent a good enough battery you could presumably build a man portable railgun.
Old 09-15-2013, 06:31 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Riding my handcycle
Posts: 32,505
Even if you could come up with a man-potable power source, recoil is a very real problem.
If you're looking for increased velocity, you either have go with a lighter bullet which will shed velocity more quickly and somewhat or almost totally negate the initial advantage, or you you have increased recoil. Present rifles deal with recoil with muzzle brakes but those won't work on a railgun.

Also, what would be the effects of a very intense magnetic field on the sniper's equipment?
Old 09-15-2013, 06:36 PM
Guest
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Saint Paul
Posts: 26,220
Not to derail the discussion, but there's nothing particularly magic about rail guns--they're big guns that fire really fast projectiles that don't need physical propellant. If you're looking for an accurate, reliable, computer-aimed human-targeting weapon, rather than trying to scale the railgun tech down, why not just use a computer-guided .50 cal sniper rifle? Does the railgun have a range of miles, and if so, is it assumed to be even remotely accurate at that range? At the distance that a .50 cal would be accurate, is there any advantage of the railgun technology (other than not needing physical propellant or a casing ejection system)?
Old 09-15-2013, 06:36 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 42
That's part of why I'm not necessarily suggesting a human sniper who uses a railgun. Could a drone fire a small railgun with high accuracy and without having its other functions (flight, for one) be disrupted by the railgun's magnetic field? Or could a tank-mounted railgun take out human opponents with precision?
Old 09-15-2013, 06:42 PM
Guest
Join Date: Nov 2000
Posts: 3,455
I imagine a flying drone would have to be huge to fire a railgun without disrupting its flight, never mind the power source and all the other stuff. Already pointed out but Recoil is a huge issue for a railgun compared to a standard rifle. Whatever is holding the gun is going to feel 100% of the recoil. A big ass ship wont be much bothered by this.
Old 09-15-2013, 06:59 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 42
That's true - I hadn't thought of the recoil effect on a flying drone. Do you think a tank could handle the recoil? I suppose bringing a tank or similar-sized vehicle within 2 miles of the target's location is rather noticeable though, something a human sniper should not be.
Old 09-15-2013, 07:03 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Chicago Il
Posts: 9,466
Quote:
Originally Posted by TnTangent View Post
Could a drone fire a small railgun with high accuracy and without having its other functions (flight, for one) be disrupted by the railgun's magnetic field? Or could a tank-mounted railgun take out human opponents with precision?
Might be possible in the not too distant future but what's the advantage? Drones have missiles. Tanks have big freaking guns that fire exploring shells. Both of those are very capable of killing someone.
Are you thinking of picking an individual out of a crowd with no collateral damage? I'm not sure a railgun would accomplish that either. The projectile is gonna have a whole lot of energy it's gotta dump somewhere. It'd probably pop your intended victim like a balloon and keep right on going into the guy(s) standing behind him.
Old 09-15-2013, 07:03 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 42
Ethilrist, that's exactly what I'm not educated on. Could a small railgun fire a projectile significantly faster than a chemical-propellant rifle? Would the increased speed make enough of a difference in accuracy (by decreasing the effects of wind or gravity over a set distance) to matter? A railgun is indeed not a magic weapon...I'm merely curious about whether it offers sufficient aiming advantages to obviate the need for a trained sniper to fire a standard rifle.

Odds are it doesn't, or else the military would be developing such a weapon...but all the responses are clarifying why it's not superior. Thanks!
Old 09-15-2013, 07:23 PM
BANNED
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 4,322
Railguns as sniper weapons, assuming small arms-sized RG, will still be limited to line-of-sight firing (1.5 miles?) For greater range, the gun has to fire ballistic and you need a smart projectile to be accurate. There are already artillery shells that can home in.

For ultra long-range sniping beyond any known gun, smart missiles guided by a target designator are presently in use. One missile has a range of 70 miles but the target designator has to be somewhere close by.
Old 09-15-2013, 07:37 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2012
Location: Colorado
Posts: 2,602
Quote:
Originally Posted by TnTangent View Post
Odds are it doesn't, or else the military would be developing such a weapon.
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to spend money on development of the fusor, so we may see railguns one day as well.

Last edited by aNewLeaf; 09-15-2013 at 07:38 PM.
Old 09-15-2013, 08:03 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota US
Posts: 15,636
The Anzio 20mm anti-material rifle is technically man portable*, and has a rated effective range of 5,000 yards. That's probably close to the longest line-of-sight anyone's going to have except in special conditions. A rail gun would have to be significantly better than this in weight or performance to be worth it.

Clip of someone shooting one: http://topicstock.pantip.com/wahkor/...X11993882.html

A 20mm Vulcan round next to a mere .50 BMG round: http://hightech-edge.com/wp-cont...ds-550x412.jpg

*If the man is Bruce Banner anyway.
Old 09-15-2013, 08:40 PM
BANNED
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 4,322
^
Breaks down into two packs (for a two-man team.) So you need to come within 3 miles. If you get spotted they're going to rain mortar and artillery on the two of you. Or dispatch a 24-man platoon who will reach you in 10 minutes. What other weapons are you carrying?

Last edited by the_diego; 09-15-2013 at 08:41 PM.
Old 09-15-2013, 08:51 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 8,867
There is a way to eliminate recoil in a rail gun, by essentially having two rail guns. One fires forward and one fires backward. It's the same concept as many shoulder-mounted weapons (conveniently known as recoil-less rifles).

Of course, a modern weapon uses the explosive waste products to negate the recoil, so you're getting double-purpose from the explosive. In a rail gun, your anti-recoil energy would have to come from the same power source that your main projectile uses, essentially cutting your potential attack power in half.

So it's a little like lasers. There is little doubt that you can make a man-portable weapon out of the technology... but there is virtually no chance that you'll ever wind up with something better than we can already achieve with gunpowder.
Old 09-15-2013, 09:26 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2012
Location: Colorado
Posts: 2,602
"Recoil" goes sideways with a railgun, spreading the tracks apart.
Old 09-15-2013, 09:32 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 8,867
Quote:
Originally Posted by aNewLeaf View Post
"Recoil" goes sideways with a railgun, spreading the tracks apart.
Wikipedia has four cites for a statement saying otherwise:
Quote:
Some erroneous work has suggested that the recoil force in railguns can be redirected or eliminated; careful theoretical and experimental analysis reveals that the recoil force acts on the breach closure just as in a chemical firearm.[11][12][13][14]
Old 09-15-2013, 09:36 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Chicago Il
Posts: 9,466
Quote:
Originally Posted by aNewLeaf View Post
"Recoil" goes sideways with a railgun, spreading the tracks apart.
That's not recoil.
Old 09-15-2013, 11:27 PM
Member
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: The Brink
Posts: 11,304
I wonder if some of the methods used for controlling recoil in railway artillery might be adapted for such a weapon...of course, then we're starting to cross the line from an exotic "rifle" into "man portable anti-tank system" territory. But hey, whatever floats your boat.
Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:28 PM.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: [email protected]

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: [email protected].

Copyright 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.

Copyright © 2017
Best Topics: wild feeds family guy porkins horse thievery tictac girl large date watch ne washington state hcraes elgoog mouse eating cheese advil slogan traci lords 1984 can carrots cause diarrhea average speed on horseback how much does it cost to see a doctor i want to be depressed mountain dew and captain morgan spiced rum how to reheat bread pudding popsicle in plastic tube why does my fever come back at night smell behind my ears the roof is on fire we don't need no water let the mother lyrics best way to learn bass