A Bullet that Aims Itself

A Bullet That Aims Itself
This is an illustration of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) self-guided bullet, which makes real-time adjustments using an optical guidance system.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says they successfully tested self-guided.50-caliber bullets last February. DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program has been working for some time on sniper bullets that make in-flight corrections as they zoom toward a distant target. They've posted a press release and video showing the technology in action.

DARPA reports that they completed the “most successful round of live-fire tests to date. An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target.”

This program’s “specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system” helps track and maneuver projectiles to targets by adjusting for precipitation, wind, target movement, and more. They haven’t said how the bullet is communicating or adjusting as it zooms to its target.

“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager. “This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. 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.”

Bullets that can adjust for wind and other factors as they fly toward a target have long been thought impractical, if not impossible. In its “One-Shot” program, for example, DARPA has been funding other technology to help snipers account for wind drift and more. To do this, they’ve been experimenting with fiber-laser technology, which uses wavelengths invisible to the human eye, to illuminate a target at night from over a mile away. They say the fiber laser could even theoretically measure bullet drift caused by wind, as it would use light reflections from moving particles between the sniper and the target to determine wind direction and speed.

Other programs are experimenting with rifles mounted in drones. As all of this comes together, the “American Sniper” of the future might soon be something even Isaac Asimov couldn’t have foreseen.