A DARPA project is seeking to make a new .50-caliber bullet that can change direction after firing.

Objective: Revolutionize rifle accuracy and range by developing the first-ever guided small-caliber bullet.

According to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) statement, “The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) system seeks to improve sniper effectiveness by allowing greater shooter standoff range and reduction in target engagement timelines.” Stated more simply, the project aims at making U.S. military snipers more deadly.

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC in California is developing the EXACTO program, according to the DARPA video.

DARPA officials said in a statement, “The EXACTO .50-caliber round and optical sighting technology expects to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems.””

The EXACTO system combines a maneuverable bullet and a guidance system to track and put the projectile on target. Graphic courtesy of DARPA.

The system combines a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track and deliver the projectile on the target. The system allows the operator to change the bullet’s flight path to compensate if needed.

Technology development in Phase II includes the design, integration and demonstration of aero-actuation controls, power sources, optical guidance systems and sensors. The program’s second phase, completed over the summer, provides a number of improvements. Current testing includes a system-level live-fire test and technology refinement to enhance and improve performance.

Criticisms or questions shooters may have about the system:

  • Will it entail more gear that sniper/spotter teams will have to carry?
  • Can a trained operator’s reflexes change the path of high-velocity rounds accurately?
  • How does such a bullet work?
  • Development of the round is a tightly guarded secret, so do the knowledgeable shooters at Cheaper Than Dirt! have any guesses about its design?

Ask us your question in the comment section.

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Comments (41)

  1. @ Jeff Edwards.

    It is very doubtful that this Round will EVER go into Civilian production. It’s a Specialized Assassination/High Priority Round. There going to treat this Round like it was a NUKE, you going to have Safeguards on top of Safeguards, on top of SAFEGUARDS…

  2. Lots of speculation here by people that don’t know much about the program or its details. Once this goes into production, prices will drop dramatically, but the average guy won’t be killing deer with this anytime soon, if ever. Get off the drone bandwagon, guys – this isn’t that kind of munition. Hellfires would be cheaper at the stated price! DARPA does cool stuff that nobody else thinks can be done, and I’d bet they’ve got a good handle on this from a technical standpoint. But fielding the technology is a whole ‘nother thing – remember Big Dog? I don’t see that getting out to units, and it was a gas-powered mule that could walk where even a mule couldn’t go. Cool? Indisputably. Practical? Not so much – mules are cheaper, and fuel themselves. Same with this – $1.85 per round vs. $800, $8,000 or $800,000? Let’s get grounded, here.

  3. @ Bob.

    In this case I have to agree with you. To get “millimeter” accuracy you would need a “differential gps” system. And I don’t know of any system that small.

  4. Not so. There isn’t a dampened, stabilized platform in existence that can maintain milimeters of accuracy from miles away while in flight. It is a challenge for a sniper who is usually prone and still. A CEP of a few centimeters is generally ok against a vehicle, but against a man-sized target? A target that is also possibly moving? Not so much.

    And ‘designator lasers” are typically NdYAG lasers. They have a hard enough time modulating at the 10Hz required to send the Code of the Day verification, let alone KHz modulation required for useful signal processing for guidance.

    The sniper’s laser is a diode laser. It is small, requires little power, no bulky cooling system, and has a range which roughly equates to the range of the sniper’s weapon.

    Saying that a “designator on a drone” could be adapted for use from a long distance and duplicate the role of the sniper’s communication laser is equating apples to oranges.

    Sorry… I do this stuff for a living… have for decades, both in and out of uniform. That isn’t a holier-than-thou comment, it’s just my vocation.

    1. @ Bob.

      As far as I know, up to to this posting. There are two versions, the one in the test is known as Mk. 1. It’s ~4-inches (102mm) in length (projectile alone), weight Unknown, has a micro 8-bit cpu and electromagnetic actuator fins that “pop in-and-out” during flight. Each “smart bullet” cost ~$800,000 USD. apiece and they want to be able to fire it out of a M107 Barrett Rifle weighting no more that 43-pounds (FAT CHANCE). Probably do better with a .5625-caliber (14.3mm) Boys Anti-Tank Rifle of WW2-era…

    1. When I was in Iraq I ran into the NCOIC of in-country Army Snipers. Knowing what I did back in the world, he told me that he didn’t need any weapon improvements as much as he needed a sight that would be disabled if captured by the enemy. He said his guys weren’t having trouble hitting the target, but that when the enemy captured a sniper’s weapon and used against Americans… well.. THAT was a BIG problem.

    2. @ Bob.

      If you don’t use it, you essentially you have an expensive “knick-knack” that you can put in the “junk drawer”…

    3. @ Bob.

      With the EXACTO, you don’t even need a sniper. All you need is a Designator, and something to deliver the “specialized package”. The designator doesn’t even have to be “human”, it can be as aerial UAV flying at 60,000-feet…

    4. Not true. A “designator” paints a target with laser energy. The round (like a HELLFIRE, COPPERHEAD, etc.) homes in on the REFLECTED energy. The “seeker head” on the round finds the reflected energy and computes in-flight corrections. This even allows “autonomous” engagements where the “designator” isn’t even the shooter (Kiowa Warriors often designate for Apaches).

      This round does not react to reflected energy. It is guided to the target by coded laser “signals” from the shooter who is lasing the back end of the round as a communication link. The shooter keeps his crosshairs on target and as deviations in flight occur due to temperature, wind, etc, it is the gunner’s crosshairs that define line-of-sght to the target. The gunners laser communicates corrections to the round. It is not the round reacting to reflected energy off the target at all. This round is much more like TOW or DRAGON in concept, except that the wires of those systems have been replaced by a laser communication link.

    5. @ Bob.

      You can program a Drones designator to do the same thing. And a Drone flying at 60,000-feet carriing a hundred or more EXACTO’s would be a far more “formidable” and “elusive” killer, than a Sniper Team…

  5. You guys sure do cry good. Fortunately no one cares not even your elected candidates.

    Now off the topic of the children crying and back ON TOPIC of the EXACTO program. I agree the cost benefit in dollars probably isn’t justified but if just one of these rounds put into a real world scenario kills a “bin laden” or “AZ” or “Al-Baghdadi” the cost benefit is more than worth it for my and your tax dollars. Not to mention the value of the technology developed along the road to creating such a round.

    1. it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to dump 500 standard .50BMG rounds at full auto and kill everything in the area in a few seconds than one of these “rube goldberg” rounds that is totally impossible. you can’t “re-aim” a round traveling at 2700 fps from a mile away, this is just “fantasy”.

    2. @ mr_bad_example.

      Remember, this is a “specialized” round. It’s sole purpose is to take-out High-Priority targets. An “assassination” round, no where in the article does it say it has to be fired out of a gun. It could be dropped out of a passing plane, helicopter, helium balloon. One person with a Laser Designator is all you really need. Just someone in the right spot at the right time, simple and quick. And NO collateral damage…

  6. i think this is going to more “egg-head” friends of Obama, like the millions to Gruber to develop the ACA. how the hell you gonna control an object that only flies a few miles traveling at half a mile per second? in half a second the .50BMG covers a quarter mile while spinning at 120,000 rpms. anyone can do the math, DARPA is blowing smoke up our arses expending millions of OUR tax dollars!

    1. Well stated. These dummies are dreaming. Fluid mechanics is still practically a black art as PHD’s will attest. Control surfaces on an object spinning at 2000 times a second?………..Gimme a break!! By the time it even knows the density of the air it’s in, it’s another 400 yards down range. What a pipe dream. A scaled down rail gun would be more feasible, but try to tell anything to the Government. I know of these things; I was a defense contractor for over 20 years. “The customer is always right, unless it’s the Government.”

    2. @ Gordon Mayer.

      They’ve already scaled-down to “pellet gun size projectiles”. The problem is Muzzle Velocity, Power and Range. 30-meters, isn’t very much of a effective weapon…

  7. Projects like this “guided bullet” are worse than a complete waste of time and money. All that complexity and intricacy just for a bullet? The expense-to-effectiveness ratio is wholly unjustified (though I’m sure any “defense” contractors involved would disagree), and the complexity is very likely to degrade reliability, especially under harsh conditions. But as long as our tax dollars are efficiently transferred to the CEOs of Lockheed, Raytheon, etc., all is well, right?

    Let’s also look at the big picture. What role would a “guided bullet” play in defending America’s national security? All the “War on Terror” propaganda notwithstanding, we gain NOTHING from this perpetual cycle of invading and occupying foreign countries other than an increased risk of terrorist attack on the Fatherland…er, I mean “Homeland”…followed by the concomitant loss of civil liberties. How many Americans feel more free today than 20 years ago? (Be careful how you answer; the NSA is listening.) And are we even any safer from terrorism? (Not that terrorism has ever been a significant threat, but still….)

    Much of the gee-whiz gear DARPA seeks to develop is suitable only for fighting “insurgencies”: i.e., poorly-equipped foreigners attempting to expel US occupiers sent by a corrupt government. The time will come when DARPA weapons (the ones that actually work) will be used against American citizens, most likely in order to confiscate our firearms and reduce us to slaves. Nearly all police and most of the military WILL obey orders to turn their weapons on Americans, just as they did with the Bonus Army and after Katrina. Count on this happening again, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

    1. Reference the use of this round in combat: Snipers depend on ONE ROUND. They may lie motionless in a field for days in their own excrement waiting for THE perfect moment. This isn’t about armies conducting force-on-force set-to battles. This is more about assassination and attacking key personnel on a one-on-one basis.

      I disagree about the military turning on the populace. During the Bonus March, military forces were unarmed at the order of President Hoover. There were four casualties. Two were shot by police, one woman miscarried due to tear gas, and one died in the unarmed cavalry charge ( By the way, 69 police were injured.

      I do remember how one very inexperienced, very poorly trained National Guard Lieutenant at Kent State fired upon civilians. We studied that event at West Point with an eye to preventing such events in the future. The military never issued orders or supported policies that would ever support what happened at Kent State. It is of note that Commissioned Officers take an oath to support the Constitution, not the man in the White House. At West Point we were taught, trained and tested to internalize the priority and legality of defending the Constitution. That includes the absolute commitment to never follow an illegal order. The Enlisted oath, admittedly, is a little different.

      One anecdotal story. In 1971 I was a young Spec 4 stationed at Ft Belvoir just south of Washington, DC. Moratorium Day that year saw a million protesters on the grounds of the Washington Memorial and its environs. Some protesters were throwing trash cans on the bridges into DC, disrupting commuter traffic. The commuters were getting out of their cars and fighting the protesters. It was a mess. My team set up an M60 Machine Gun on the south side of the Chain Bridge. All the civilians dispersed. Little did they know that we had not been issued ammunition, just as in the days of the Bonus March.

    2. Bob, correct on the officer’s oath. I took my oath of office when commissioned a second lieutenant in 1988. As an ROTC cadet we also had the legitimacy and legality of orders impressed upon us. Kent State and the Mia Lia massacre (now called Mia Lia Incident) were two of the more poignant examples.

    1. There is nothing new here but miniaturization. In the bigger-weapons world, this has been done for decades. TOW and DRAGON anti-missile systems used wire to connect the gunner to the round. As the gunner tracked the target, the round corrected its path in flight to hit the target, moving or stationary. These “smart” weapons started with a wire link between the gunner and the round. The Maverick Missile did the same, using a TV camera in the nose of the round wirelessly linked to the gunner in the aircraft, but it was the same principle. The French MILAN system used a laser talking to the rear end of the round, which this 50cal variant seems to replicate.

      The next step was laser guided weapons, in which a laser is aimed at the target. The detector on the nose of the round (SAL HELLFIRE, COPPERHEAD, et al) tracked the reflected energy from the target and the round was guided to impact.

      Then “brilliant” weapons were introduced, which required no guidance from the gunner at all. All the “brains” are in the round. The JAVELIN anti-tank weapon, for example, uses electro-optics to identify a straight line or a right angle (or other things that don’t exist in nature) and homes in on the target.

      Then, of course, GPS guided systems like EXCALIBUR emerged.

      It is of note that there is another ongoing DARPA project that uses lasers at the shooter to map out things like wind effects, etc, throughout the entire flight path, to allow generation of an “adjusted aim point” from the gunner location.

      So there is nothing new here except miniaturization. Putting such capability in a 50cal round is pretty impressive.

      I would note, however, that previous attempts at such things have usually resulted in lessened effects on the target. The XM 25 grenade launcher, for example, used up so much space and weight on the communication link between the gun and the round, on-board computing power, components to allow change of the path in flight, etc, that there wasn’t much space/weight left for the desired effect upon impact at the target.

  8. I’m sure this thing would be very costly and require special equipment and training. No prices are mentioned. I would much prefer that we train more men like Chris Kyle who will do the job with ammo costing less then one dollar each.

  9. Although it may have substantial applications I’m not seeing the benefit in the video. If the desired results are to change the projectlies point of impact wouldn’t it be much easier to merely adjust the point of aim from the onset? I’m not seeing in the video where as anything done improves the lethal range over systems currently in use. What I am seeing is a modern version of a once used system that actually shortened the range which was used for training purposes.

  10. Just going to point out the obvious traits I see in this round from the video. The correction made is obviously over compensation for the spin of the bullet so we can count out flat barrel. I think a basic requirement would be that the round can be shot out of existing weapon systems, this seconds the assumption.

    Seeing the gross over correction the bullet makes and knowing what I know about physics my theory is that there is essentially chemically active propellant rings around the bullet that can easily be activated with a small energy source stored inside the bullet. Enough test firing and you could easily program anything to do the calculations sufficent to guide a bullet off it’s original trajectory just by burning off chemical rings at the right time to change the bullets spin and yaw and see the effect we see in the video.

  11. I got out of the Corps in 1988. At that time, there was a BMG round that was being developed that had fins that would make it change direction. Not like it would make a right angle turn or anything, but it would change direction. They aspirations then of making it laser guided. Bottom line is, this is nothing new.

    1. @ Warren.

      The first remote control drone was the 1898, Nicola Tesla “Aerial Torpedo”, donated to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in 1957. The first ‘drone” used in wartime, was the WW1 the Kettering “Bug”.

  12. Since there was no distinct observed acceleration, I would not lean toward an on board propulsion system. It appears to be a standard tracer for aid in visually tracking the projectile. My guess would be a precision micro-mechanical device inside the projectile that adjusts the center of gravity and amount of spin of the projectile in flight.

    Barrel length, # turns, and powder load would give every projectile a near exact same ballistic “start” the device would then be able to adjust spin rate, pitch or yaw to control the flight path of the projectile. The result would essentially be an in flight controllable curve ball.

    My guess is that there is a separate optical targeting system as was suggested earlier where someone could paint the target while a second shooter in a different location could put the bullet into the area close enough to pick up the targeting laser and then correct onto target.

    The reason it comes in .50cal flavor is smaller caliber bullets don’t have enough playload space. Just guessing….

  13. As I understand it, there’s a micro turbojet engine that powers it in flight. Which probably means a “smoothbore” gun and probably just enough of a “powder charge” to fire it from a rifle and activate the propulsion system. It would have to have an extremely efficient “turbo-jet or turbo-ramjet” for the extremely limited fuel supply carried on-board. And I’m not even going to hazard a guess on possible “flight time” and possible “range”, or even if there’s a “warhead” on-board.

    1. The pre-impact trajectory looks very much like the terminal pop-up of certain other guided munitions, which use logic for target acquisition as opposed to operator control. I don’t think a sniper is doing anything in real time to guide the projectile onto target.

      Instead, it looks like a laser probably is being painted on the actual target, and the projectile’s guidance system is acquiring the laser and making adjustments to follow that laser. The pop-up could be the result of a pre-impact logic loop that intentionally creates a gross angle difference between aim point and actual target, and gross corrections just before impact, to ensure that the guidance system is tracking the laser rather than something else.

      Nice psyops on the micro turbo-jet.

    2. @ PeteDub.

      Thanks! Don’t expect to to see one in my local anytime soon, or within the 50 to 100-years, or so. There going to treat this like, if it is a “nuke”. Because this round just made every Security Service OBSOLETE…

    3. Actually this doesn’t seem that hard. I might play with the idea if I can get a SOC solution that would fit into a .50 round. My wife has a Barrett so testing the ammo wouldn’t be hard, I’d just have to engineer it so it could withstand the acceleration without breaking apart. The fun part would be to integrate the steering veneers with the sensor system while still compensating for all the other forces involved on the round in flight to create a reliable mechanism for changing vectors. The expensive part would be getting the customization down to fit into a .50 caliber package, even with an extended bullet length.

    4. @ S. Evans.

      The problem I have is how does the projectile steer itself while spinning after coming out of the barrel and orientate itself in a 3-dimensional environment while trying to find it’s target. I mean if you spin the projectile you defeat the purpose of self guidance.

    5. I would bet this system does not use a rifled barrel. The only reason for rifling is stability and accuracy. If you develop a small guided bullet, stability and accuracy are ‘built in’.

    6. @ Rsm61.

      If the “projectile” is like it larger cousin, fired from a Naval Gun or Field Howitzer. The “forward” section stays fixed in 3-Dimensional space and guides the projectile to it’s target. While the spinning section provides stability and power while in flight, which also contains the “warhead”…

    7. @ Rsm61.

      DARPA, the people there want this “projectile” to be able to fire out a M107 Barrett style and/or type of Rifle, and it’s not to exceed 43-pounds loaded…

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