If you could fit a multi-kilowatt laser on an F-35, and make it a practical thing (so no expendable chemicals being used up every shot, no having to gut air frame to fit all the laser equipment) it could radically alter how America fought its wars. Imagine a dozen F-35s flying over a combat zone, and killing individual enemy soldiers with literal laser precision - unlike with conventional munitions they can keep doing that for as long as their fuel supplies last. The sustained support laser-equipped planes could provide to ground forces is kind of amazing/terrifying when you really think about it.
Contrast the rail gun. The primary naval weapon is missiles, whether launched by plane or by ship. Guns are secondary (tertiary if you count torpedoes) equipment, mostly used for warding off pirates or shooting down enemy missiles while they're coming in. The rail gun offers to replace the rarely used 5 inch gun on most destroyers with...a longer range gun that's also going to be seldom used. The original idea of using it for "shore bombardment" or that it can be a backup weapon for when the missile magazines run dry are both...kind of dubious ideas now that we're facing a resurgent China and Russia who aren't going to allow our ships to close to within rail range before destroying them with their own missiles.
While I kind of agree with your point on the rail gun, manned aircraft loitering in any modern battlefront are essentially doomed. Anti aircraft missiles are a lot more effective and a lot cheaper with modern computers.
This is, incidentally, why the A-10 is obsolete. Trying to fly slow and low on a modern battlefield is indeed doomed. During the Gulf War, F-16s performed more CAS missions than A-10s did because the A-10 was simply not survivable against modern threats. To the extent they had to be withdrawn from known Republican hot zones because the danger was simply too great.
I imagine it differently: lasers will make jets resistant to AA warfare, they potentially can shot down any incoming missile very efficiently.
I think one of the Navy's biggest issue is railguns pretty much make large surface ships a detriment and they are very loathe to give up their carriers. Those are their "balance in importance" versus the Air Forces stealth bombers and missiles. The Navy has lived off its success since WW2 for far too long with this need for 10 full CV forces.
(Plastic doesnt show on x-rays.)
1. Create a railgun as powerful as you desire, then develop the tech until it is suitable to go on a ship.
2. Create a railgun suitable to go on a ship, then develop the tech until it is as powerful as you desire.
The Chinese railgun right now isn't any better than conventional guns.
Last time i checked this was the problem indicated- making a rail replacement necessary any x-shots, and erasing the saved volume and weight on ammonition nearly completely.
So what about the obvious TRIZ sollutions?
Make the Rail replaceable? As in build it from a substance that can be recoolected and swiftly reshaped on the fly into a new rail? Some sort of conducting ice that only last long enough to keep the current flowing and the projectile wagon on the rail on its way out?
How about a entirely diffrent approach - seperating rail and conducting?
As in, two laser-created plasmachannels with non-conducting rails?
Has anyone observed this project closer?
Usually if there is an "obvious" solution they have done at least a cursory analysis of it and found a deal breaker for putting it on a ship. It's not guaranteed, but if there is something obvious to try that would solve one of the major hurdles then someone should have suggested it, and the idea probably had traction until they figured it it wouldn't work. The engineers and scientists working on these projects aren't total greenhorns, they are experienced weapons developers.
At best a little research is done at some experienced user forum, where the problem is declared unsolveable.
There is a reason why many unversity undergrads find such "genius" new approaches - its because they usually dont know that the problem is suppossed to be unfixable. Not professionally blinded, was the term, i presume.
Remember this is the same lab, who did send subs intot a world war without properly tested torpedos. If my assumption is right, half of them is traditional explosive cannon engineers, whos life wor would become obsolete on success.
Remember that this is also the same lab that gave us the Norden bombsight, which many historians agree was a major factor in the allies winning WWII.
‘In practice it was not possible to achieve the expected accuracy in combat conditions, with the average CEP in 1943 of 370 metres (1,200 ft) being similar to Allied and German results. Both the Navy and Air Forces had to give up on the idea of pinpoint attacks during the war.’
Admittedly, the Norden did not live up to its hype. Almost nothing performs as well in real life as it does under perfect conditions- this is commonly seen when going from the "golden testers" in development that graduated from test pilot school to the "regular testers" during operational test. But once appropriate tactics were developed (this takes a while with all new technology) and they found a few bombardiers good enough to lead bombing formations, it was effective. Not at the level of pinpoint accuracy, but the performance improved quite a bit over the 1943 results. They never took the Norden off the B-17s because any time the Norden had bad results any previous technology would have been worse.
To the point of my prior comment, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, the place that is working on the USN's railguns, is the same place where they were able to get Carl Norden's design into a production ready state where 90,000 of them could be made with the precision of a master Swiss watchmaker. Dahlgren isn't staffed by a bunch of software devs that call themselves "engineers" because they think it sounds better. They have real engineers working on solutions to their problems, and a history to back it up. While you can't assume they've looked at every possible idea, they have considered many novel ways to fix the main issues of railguns.