Well, this sucks. Out of the $664.5 billion 2012 defense budget, the Senate Armed Services Committee couldn't find enough money (or reasons) to continue funding the Navy's Free Electron Laser or ship-mounted railgun. I guess the "free" part didn't fool them.
Here's what the committee summary has to say about the FEL and the railgun:
"The determination was that the Free Electron Laser has the highest technical risk in terms of being ultimately able to field on a ship, so we thought the Navy could better concentrate on other laser programs," explains Rick DeBobes, the chief of staff for the committee. "With the Electromagnetic Railgun, the committee felt the technical challenges to developing and fielding the weapon would be daunting, particularly [related to] the power required and the barrel of the gun having limited life."
Look, nobody's saying it's going to be easy to get these things to work, but that's kind of how it goes with ultra-futuristic technology. A lot of progress has been made recently on both of these systems, which is partly why this cancellation is such a shame. For example, in April the railgun fired a new type of aerodynamic round for four miles with zero degrees elevation after blasting a hole in a 1/8 inch steel plate. And the free electron laser powered up to 200 kilowatts way ahead of schedule in February.
The military has made the jump from line-of-sight projectile weapons, to non-LOS weapons, to missiles. The next logical step involves railguns and lasers, which is why these projects were funded in the first place. And by the time that you decide you seriously need a railgun and electromagnetic laser, it'll be about a decade too late for serious near-term development.
Via Danger Room