Advanced weapons startup Arcflash Labs is selling an alpha version of a handheld gauss gun for $3,375.00. It’s called the GR-1 and it’s very similar to futurist weapons from video games like Fallout and Quake. The GR-1’s 10 round magazine can launch 32mm long metal rods at a speed of 75 meters per second. It weighs 20 pounds and the charger is sold separately.
Arcflash Labs is the brainchild of co-founders David Wirth and Jason Murray, two engineers with a passion for the weapons of the future. They’ve been building railguns and coilguns for years before they decided to form a company in 2017 to iterate on their separate tech and scale up manufacturing.
Wirth said that, right now, he sees the GR-1 as a demonstrator more than a viable weapon. “We’re maily selling it to enthusiasts and researchers who want to see what the technology can do,” he told Motherboard on the phone. “It’s just an alpha test.”
The GR-1 is also just that latest gun from the company, which already sells two other railguns. There’s the smaller EMG-01B, which is fully automatic and roughly equivalent in size to an MP5, and the 1.5 lb SGP-35 which looks like a handgun from a video game set in the near future.
All three weapons use gauss to move a projectile, meaning they use a series of electro-magnets to attract a metal rod to the end of a barrel. The electro magnetics drag the projectile along until it builds speed and flies out the end of the barrel. “There’s some physical limitations with that,” Wirth said. “You can only shut down the magnetic field so fast so there’s a maximum speed. You can accelerate things that are as big as you want but it caps at around 300 feet per second. It’s about the speed of a fast slingshot.”
Gauss guns, or coilguns, are distinct from railguns. “In a railgun you’re accelerating a much smaller projectile but there’s really no upper limit for its speed. We’ve got railguns that go over 1,000 per second but with much smaller masses.”
A .308 shot from a Winchester repeating rifle has a velocity of about 2,820 ft/s. The velocity of an AR-15 round is more than 3,300 ft/s. These new gauss weapons have a long way to go before they can compete with gunpowder weapons, but Wirth is optimistic about the future. “The capacitors are really the limitation,” he said. “The mass of the GR-1 is more than half capacitors and that’s just dead weight.”
According to Wirth, capacitors have followed a linear trend in development similar to Moore’s Law. “Ever since 1960, capacitor technology has been doubling in energy density once every 5 or 10 years,” he said. “We expect energy density to exceed that of traditional firearms in roughly 20 years.”
The Pentagon, and the Navy in particular, have been working on railgun technology for more than a decade. Typically the tech is enormous, sits on the deck of destroyer class ships, and doesn’t impress too many people. The tech is still in its infancy, but Wirth is confident the future of small arms is in coil and rail. “There are certain limitations to traditional firearms,” he said. According to Wirth, there’s an upper limit to how fast and how far gunpowder can launch a projectile and it’s hard to control speed and distance on the fly.
That could all be different with coil and railguns. “You can accelerate large masses, you can accelerate them very slowly, and you can control that acceleration in proportion to the distance of a target.” A gauss gun of the future could, hypothetically, use on-board computers to calculate the difference to a target and adjust a lethal round into a non-lethal one. With the flip of a switch, a gun could be set to either kill or stun a target.
But that’s decades in the future. For now, the gauss rifle is an intriguing concept weapon that is mostly legal to own in much of the United States. “For the most part it’s unregulated. There are some exceptions—New York City, Illinois, Hawaii,” Wirth said. “There are some states that are very forward looking in terms of prohibiting any electronic accelerators. But for the most part we look at these things as similar to air rifles. It’s a similar muzzle energy and anywhere you can buy an air rifle legally online, we’ll ship to.”