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Physics/"Are Rail guns a practical form of weaponry"

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Question
Hi,
My name is Vivek and I am a student from Nazareth Catholic College currently studying in Year 12. As part of my Physics Issues Investigation, I am investigating whether “Rail Guns are a practical form of weaponry?” I was wondering whether you could provide me with some insight into your personal thoughts on the use of Rail Guns and whether their disadvantages outweigh their advantages. Some primary research conducted showed that rail guns can be fired at much higher speeds and can travel much further. However rail guns also need a lot of power to be fired, therefore becoming more expensive to launch. I also read in an article that rail guns can potentially create enough energy to explode itself due to the magnetic fields produced. What is your personal opinion on this and do you believe rail guns could become more of a common type of weaponry in the future? I am aware that the US Navy is working on prototypes of the rail gun, are you aware of any other developments into rail guns?
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer this,
Vivek

Answer
This is more of an engineering question than a physics one, the physics of railguns is relatively straightforward.  The engineering, however, makes their practical use daunting to say the least.  The speeds you're talking about involve ridiculously dangerous levels of energy storage and dissipation to achieve, and in huge machines.  I don't work on them, but in my opinion they are a very specialty weapon to be deployed against military targets in other nations...they've lost relevance to the type of war we fight today against terrorists, really.  They're not practical to make and/or deploy, and fire too slowly to do much real good in a major conflict.  You'd be better served to create massive forces of drones than to invest in the major hardware of rail guns.

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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson

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I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.

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I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

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Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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