DARPA’s Smart Bullets Can Change Direction Midair


A video released by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) shows how a shot fired from a sniper rifle changed direction midflight, seeking its moving target.

In the video, the live-fire assessment demonstrated a series of shots fired by a veteran sniper, hitting the target spot-on with each attempt. On the last part, a shot was fired by a rookie sniper using EXACTO rounds which also hit the same moving target with chilling accuracy. It was clear as day the shot will miss but the bullet steered midair, defying its projected trajectory to chase the target.

The demonstration showed us how the EXACTO rounds dared what was thought to be impossible. DARPA aims to increase a sniper’s effectiveness in combat even in dire situations and against extreme weather conditions. This development may also minimize training requirements, enabling even novice shooters to achieve the same accuracy (or even better) similar to a veteran’s aim.

A few years ago, DARPA has employed the services of Lockheed Martin and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging (TSI) to develop .50-caliber smart bullets that will revolutionize rifle accuracy and hit rate. This led them to create the EXtreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program which aims to build guided bullets that can alter its path midair to hit its intended target.

Snipers, even the best of them, have a hard time dealing with moving targets, especially at such long distances. Effects of crosswinds, temperature, air density, gun temperature, and pressure are some of the factors they have to take into account before pulling the trigger. Each shot is also critical to missions, that one failed attempt will alert the target and at the same time disclose the sniper’s location, ultimately resulting in a failed operation.

EXACTO neutralizes these factors to hit the target when and where it counts. The guided bullets are packed with optical sensors and electronic mechanisms that allow it to gather midflight information, enabling it to adjust to any condition and still increase the accuracy and range of a shot.

Sandia National Laboratories also developed a guided bullet using a different technology from EXACTO’s. Their bullet, equipped with optical sensors, uses laser guidance to point it to its target. Electronics and actuators encased in the projectile propel it based on the readings from its optical sensors. The path the laser pointer creates, acts like a string connecting the gun to the target, giving the bullet a path to follow to hit the target.

This demo is just the first of many phases of the program. Its success in infusing a guided system inside a .50-caliber round opens a window to have it applied to other calibers in the near future.