Electric rail gun may be the best answer to non-lethal deterence
[Jan 8, 2022: Brett Tingley]
The U.S. Navy may have shelved its railgun program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a similar futuristic weapon for yourself. One ambitious company is offering what it is calling “the world’s first and only handheld Gauss rifle” for pre-order for the price of $3,375. The rifle is claimed to be capable of shooting a wide variety of metal projectiles using powerful magnets. Obviously, there are outstanding questions about how well the Gauss rifle works and how safe the system is, but the company's CEO tells us that military and law enforcement agencies have already expressed interest in the weapon.
The GR-1 Anvil Gauss rifle is made by Arcflash Labs, LLC, the co-founder of which, David Wirth and Jason Murray, are "Aerospace Engineers, former US Air Force officers, and experts in pulsed power supply development with 20 years of combined experience," according to its website. The company says the weapon is “capable of accelerating any ferromagnetic projectile (under 1/2″ in diameter) to 200+ fps [feet per second]” and can produce up to 100 Joules of force, or 75 foot-pounds, similar to the muzzle energy of some .22 rifles, making it the “most powerful coilgun ever sold to the public, and also (very likely) the most powerful handheld coilgun ever built.”
Gauss rifles, or coilguns, use electrified coils to generate a magnetic field that accelerates ferromagnetic projectiles to high speeds. This is a similar, but distinct concept from railguns, which, as their name implies, get their projectiles going using field generated between current-conducting rails.
While many handheld coilgun designs have been shown off over the years, we've yet to see one that can deliver enough force to be useful in any type of military or security setting.
Arcflash's rifle measures 38 inches in length with a barrel length of 26 inches, weighs 20 pounds, and is powered by a 25.2-volt lithium-ion polymer battery (LiPoly) battery. From the images on the company’s website, the rifle’s stock appears to be 3D printed with some acrylic plastic sections bolted on.
The manufacturer says the rifle uses an “advanced capacitor charging system” and a “dual Clamped Quasi-Resonant Inverter.” This allows the Gauss rifle to fire up to 20 rounds per minute at maximum power, or up to 100 rounds per minute while operating at half power. The rifle also features a novel trigger system that allows a user to pre-charge the system by depressing the trigger lightly before firing it with a full pull.
As for actual ammunition, since the GR-1 accelerates projectiles uses magnetic fields, any iron-rich metal slug with a diameter between 11mm and 12.6mm and a length between 30 and 52mm could be fired from this handheld weapon, at least in principle.
The Anvil generates muzzle energy – the energy of the projectile as it leaves the barrel – of around 85 joules, according to New Scientist, comparable to high-end air rifles 'or about half the power of a .22 caliber rifle.'
Arcflash co-founder David Wirth says that most of the inquiries so far were about using Arcflash's coilgun technology to fire non-lethal projectiles, such as rubber bullets or pepper spray balls. Since coilguns use electromagnetism to propel projectiles, these munitions would require ferromagnetic sabots or embedded iron shavings in order to be fired.
"The reason they're interested in coilguns versus a CO2-powered thing is because with a coilgun, you can instantly change the power on it so you can dial it down if you're close to a target so it won't hurt somebody, or increase the power if you're further away and get the effect you want," Wirth said. That non-lethality is a selling point.
Wirth feels that weapons like the company’s Gauss rifle will become more common as these technologies develop and come down in price and weight. “It’s not a matter of if, but when gunpowder will be succeeded.”. "It’s a one thousand-year-old technology. It works fine. But we think we’ve got something better. There’s tremendous potential here, but the technology is still in its infancy.”
A key algorithmic improvement made by Toth involved finding a novel way to combine the kinetic and fluid aspects of plasmas in one simulation model. "People tried it before and failed. But we made it work. We go a million times faster than brute-force simulations by inventing smart approximations and algorithms," Toth said.
The new algorithm dynamically adapts the location covered by the kinetic model based on the simulation results. The model identifies the regions of interests and places the kinetic model and the computational resources to focus on them. This can result in a 10 to 100 time speed up for space weather models.
As part of the NSF SWQU project, Toth and his team has been working on making the Space Weather Modeling Framework run efficiently on future supercomputers that rely heavily on graphical processing units (GPUs). As a first goal, they set out to port the Geospace model to GPUs using the NVIDIA Fortran compiler with OpenACC directives.
They recently managed to run the full Geospace model faster than real-time on a single GPU. They used TACC's GPU-enabled Longhorn machine to reach this milestone. To run the model with the same speed on traditional supercomputer requires at least 100 CPU cores.
"It took a whole year of code development to make this happen, Toth said. "The goal is to run an ensemble of simulations fast and efficiently to provide a probabilistic space weather forecast."
This type of probabilistic forecasting is important for another aspect of Toth's research: localizing predictions in terms of the impact on the surface of Earth.
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Note: Materials provided above by Brett Tingley. Content may be edited for style and length.
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