Kinetic Energy Technology
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The Strategic Defense Initiative Kinetic Energy Weapons (KEW) program incorporates two distinct technologies: missiles (near term) and electromagnetic launchers (long term). Since missiles already have an established industrial base, only the recently emerging technology of electromagnetic launchers (EMLs) will be discussed here. In so doing, the efficiency and velocity limitations imposed by theromodynamic principles are avoided. EMLs are capable of achieving much higher accelerations and velocities and in some cases higher efficiencies than their theromodynamic counterparts. The technologies required are those of generating and conditioning the extremely high levels of pulsed electrical power needed. As we will see, these new EML technologies have a variety of potential commercial applications as well. The KEW program involves accelerating projectiles to velocities far in excess of those achieved by conventional guns, for the purpose of destroying ballistic missiles by kinetic energy impact. As compared with directed energy weapons (DEW), the lethality mechanism is less controversial, but the longer time-of-flight makes actually hitting the target more difficult. This leads to the use of so-called smart projectiles, either command guided or terminally homing. However, the topic that will be discussed here will be the launch mechanism for such weapons.