DARPA's guided sniper bullet changes path mid-flight


July 15, 2014

DARPA has conducted live-fire testing of its .50 caliber guided bullet

DARPA has conducted live-fire testing of its .50 caliber guided bullet

Image Gallery (3 images)

With an ability to strike from great distances, snipers present a unique threat in the field of battle. This long-range lethality is not without its complications, however, with accuracy often dictated by wind, rain and dust, not to mention targets that are constantly on the move. Over the last few months, DARPA has been conducting live-fire tests of guided .50 caliber bullets and today unveiled footage demonstrating the project's success.

With the aim of improving accuracy and safety for military snipers, DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) project is tasked with developing more accurate artillery that will enable greater firing range, minimize the time required to engage with targets and also help to reduce missed shots that can give away a troop's location.

The EXACTO 50-caliber round is claimed to be the first ever guided small-caliber bullet. The maneuverable projectile uses a real-time optical guidance system to change its path mid-flight and home in on a target, potentially overcoming adverse weather and hostile conditions to improve sniper accuracy.

DARPA isn't giving too much away in terms of technical detail. However, if the illustration above is any indication, the steering mechanism used by DARPA appears different to the method used by a team at the Sandia National Laboratories back in 2012.

In that case, researchers developed a small-caliber guided bullet prototype capable of steering toward a laser-marked target 2 km (1.2 mi) away. This was accomplished by way of an optical sensor on the bullet's nose that gathers flight path information, while onboard electronics controlled tiny fins on its side to direct it toward the target. No such fins can be seen on the EXACTO round.

The DARPA footage, which can be seen below, demonstrates two rounds of live-fire testing. With the rifle intentionally aimed to the right of the marked target, the bullet can be seen veering in trajectory, altering its path to strike accurately over an undisclosed distance. DARPA claims the technology is likely to markedly extend the day and night-time range of current sniper systems.

Following the successful demonstration of the round's guidance systems and sensor, DARPA will now work to refine the technology to improve performance and conduct system-level live fire testing.

Source: DARPA

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

This reminds me of that 1980's movie with Tom Seleck called "Runaway" Where Gene Simmons is the villain who uses micro guided missile technology to dispatch people. It's amazing that it came out on the 80's and only took 20+ years to develop it. It will be interesting to see if this can actually be fielded in something like an M82 Barrett or equivalent man portable weapons system.


Is the barrel still rifled? If so and the bullet is spinning how on earth is it able to steer itself in flight?!? Amazing!


I'll bet there is no rifling on the bore of the weapon it is fired from, unless the electronics are giddiness proof.

My guess is that the target acquisition is by infra-red and the three rings in the middle of the round effect the steering. I imagine that it would take something like an A10 Warthog ( to cope with an enemy equipped with these and as far as I know there is nothing like an A10 Warthog.

Mel Tisdale

...and then they release a multi target lock, modified gun for the A10 that fires these.

And the Chuck Norris of Airplanes is born.


War just became a little bit more asymmetric.


Amazing technology. Imagine if they could use our taxes to help people and the planet instead of killing them and destroying it.


A very promising weapon for snipers and commando units with adequate backup.

Ernest Roberts

The weapon is still rifled. It's easily possible to put a ring laser gyro and accelerometer inside a round of that size and perhaps use some sort of small motor to affect the bullet's path by varying the motor's spin.

The laser sensor, guidance/steering components, and power source would need very little space and weight is not really a concern since they'd weigh less than volume of metal they replace.


Ah, bullets, guns, awesome! Let's all keep believing in the fairy tale that shooting people solves problems instead of perpetuating them. Evidence be screwed.

And no, I'm not talking about a hostage taker in a kindergarten. I'm talking about warfare and the military's way of thinking.

And yes, that latter case is what this is developed for, since the kindergarten hostage taker problem is too small a target market to dump millions of dollars into.

First, the U.S. military will be the only one who has this. Decades later, it will have trickled down to the last roof dwelling sniper defending some backwater tyrant by shooting pedestrians.


As a retired Ordnance officer I would expect that the next major system developmental step would be to mount this weapon to the underside of a small drone with a very muffled engine. It would be great to be able to punch a target's lights out from a mile away, at some modest altitude, all without putting a team on the ground and all of this from potentially several hundred miles from a support base or maybe even a distant larger "mothership" carrier/launcher aircraft. New mission for a C130? Cruise missiles are a big expensive hammer. Joint Standoff glide bombs are still a big hammer with lots of potential for collateral damage. It would be great to be able to cancel someone's ticket from a hundred miles away and only spatter the wall while leaving virtually no other signature.


The problem I see is that unless this is an explosive round, it can easily be re-engineered. It is after all left virtually intact in a body, when shot at this distance. And guns are much cheaper than the things shot at generally. That hurts us.

I would not use this. It just endangers our troupes and equipment when it is re-engineered.


The DARPA web page for the EXACTO mentions aero-actuation controls, which implies some form of fin. But no fins can be seen in the illustration. The optical guidance system has to fit in the 1/2 inch diameter bullet, so it's probably simple. If optical refers to a laser, then the laser beam could be detected before the projectile hits. An ordinary 50 caliber bullet takes over 2 seconds to travel 2000 meters.


The darker gray area is a cone they shift the cone around and that steers the bullet.


Sense the bullet is spinning it only needs to be able to turn one direction.


If it fires from a rifled standard .50 cal. it would spin over 100,000 rpm and the rifling would likely damage those rings. I could imagine that a slight internal change in the center of gravity could cause the bullet to yaw in a predetermined direction to guide it along the way. The term guided bullet doesn't say if it is self guided or externally guided. If it used steering fins then a non-rifled barrel sounds more likely with a self guided bullet. If the bullet spins then I could imagine an external tracking device tracking the bullet and causing it to yaw toward the laser mark on the target. Since the video shows the bullet being tracked to the target, I suspect that it is also guided by the external tracking device. The external tracking device could also determine the range, temperature, wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure, and quickly compute the desired trajectory with a minimum of correction. For a modern computer, two seconds to impact is a long, long time.


Does beg the question is this really a bullet - or is it a guided (ballistic) missile. Think I would classify it as the latter!

Whatever the classification this would be an amazing weapon for taking out bad guys who are using human/moral shields to protect themselves when even a small missile could cause civilian causalities.

Brian M

With normal sniping, the greater the distance, the more impact any tiny error makes but with this, the greater the distance, the more time the bullet has to correct. It would seem to make sniping both safer for the shooter and more accurate. Better (when circumstances allow) to send one precise shot than to spray a target area with light machine gun fire if you want to minimize civilian deaths.

Snake Oil Baron

Oh Crap now I really have no way to hide!!


theotherwill, you are assuming that all laser emissions are visible with the naked eye..

Noel K Frothingham

Seems impractical. Long live the days of real skill when it comes to shooting.


The last time I read this article, the SMART BULLET was 6.6-inches long alone, not including the cartridge. I'd like to know what Man-Portable Rifle is going too fire this SMART BULLET. And just how Heavy is the rifle going to be.

Michael Flower

Just how small is this .50-caliber, Smart Bullet. Because, one report I read puts the bullet length alone at ~6.6-inches in length. Something your NOT going to be able too put into a "average" .50-caliber (12.7x99mm/BMG) Sniper Rifle...

Michael Flower
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles