New ‘Smart’ Bullets are Able to Change Direction in Midair

It’s always easier to hit a bull’s-eye when your bullet can change direction in midair. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed the technology for a self-steering bullet meant for long-distance shots, that has the capability to change direction during flight. Much like a self-guided missile, the bullets will be able to alter their course after being fired to hit a moving target.


The ‘EXACTO’ bullet, which stands for Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance, will be able to hit targets at distances unreachable with current sniper ammunition. Obviously, this is a serious game changer for the military and will make snipers even more deadly. “Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers,” said DARPA program manager, Jerome Dunn.

The “smart bullets” use built-in optical sensors to determine where the target is going. The bullet then uses this data to deploy small fins that help guide it to its destination. The real-time guidance system will allow the bullet to account for any unexpected factors – like wind or rain – that might otherwise throw it off its intended course.

The footage in the video above is pretty impressive, with an experienced shooter using the technology to repeatedly hit a moving target, while a novice shooter unfamiliar with the technology also hits the target. U.S. military snipers are currently expected to be able to hit a target 600 meters away 90 percent of the time. Impressive, but the EXACTO bullet raises the stakes to a whopping 2,000 meters. Teledyne, the company awarded the DARPA contract has spent $25 million on the project, and while the exact cost of a bullet hasn’t been released, DARPA is estimating $100-1000 per round. Not a cheap box of ammunition.

A similar self-guided bullet is also being developed by Sandia National Laboratories, which instead of using an onboard computer system like the EXACTO bullet, uses lasers for guidance. According to their website, “the nose of the bullet is equipped with an optical sensor along with counterbalancing mass and stabilizing strakes. Guidance and control electronics and electromagnetic actuators housed in the aft section of the projectile operate small control fins to steer the projectile to the target based on input from the optical sensor.”

A full prototype hasn’t been tested yet, but the company plans to make the bullets available to law enforcement as well as to the military.

Obviously a soldier wielding such a piece of technology will be incredibly powerful, and one can’t help but think of the impact it would have if it fell into the wrong hands. The idea that these bullets could one day find themselves on the black market to be sold to terrorists, for instance, is a scary thought – but one that must be pondered when developing any sort of military technology. When exactly U.S. military snipers will begin using EXACTO bullets isn’t known yet, but DARPA plans to continuously refine the technology in the meantime.

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