Pounds 12m supergun brings Star Wars to Scotland

STAR WARS comes to Scotland. The new electromagnetic gun and experimental range at Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, was unveiled on time yesterday. Half of the pounds 12.5m cost is being met by Britain's Defence Research Agency, half by the US Army's Research and Engineering Centre at Picatinny Arsenal, Dover, New Jersey, writes Christopher Bellamy.

The idea of using an electromagnetic pulse to fire a projectile was patented at the start of the century, but the idea really caught on with President Reagan's 'Star Wars' initiative a decade ago. EM guns offer advantages shooting down fast, incoming missiles or penetrating armour.

The Kirkcudbright gun is about 8 metres (26ft) long - not much bigger than a conventional tank gun, with a 90mm bore. Electromagnetic guns work by sending a powerful pulse up a rail, through the projectile, and back down another rail.

In the Kirkcudbright gun a bank of huge capacitors can store 32 megajoules of energy which passes into the gun at 11,000 volts with a current of 5 million amps. The velocity of a projectile from a conventional gun is limited to about 7,500 feet a second. The experimental gun will be able to fire them at double the speed.

There are several targets. One is very close to enable projectiles to be tested on explosive reactive armour, which blasts outwards to interfere with armour piercing shells. There are also targets at 100 metres, one and two kilometres.

'The total focus is about ammunition research . . . The problem is keeping the projectile in one piece even at that velocity,' Bill Clifford, manager of the DRA weapons department, said. About 30 people work on the DRA team based at Fort Halstead, Kent. A small team will be based at Kirkcudbright.

The Royal Navy is considering equipping its ships and possibly submarines with cruise missiles, similar to those launched from US ships against the Zaafaraniyah nuclear facility near Baghdad last month, officials told the House of Commons Defence Committee yesterday.

The committee was investigating the Navy's role in peacekeeping and limited war operations. Responding to the Labour MP James Home Robertson, Commodore Nigel Essenhigh, the Director of Naval Plans, said: 'We are at a very early stage of study - looking at the lessons of the Gulf.' The Navy also wants ships to have guns for shore bombardment.

(Photograph omitted)