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Guided Bullets


Army.ca Legend
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Guided bullets fired from .50 sniper rifles. Yet another way to ruin your day:


Military Snipers Could Soon Be Using "Guided" Bullets
It's all thanks to a DARPA project.

by Kyle Mizokami

Key Point: DARPA has been quiet on the project since 2014.

One of the most challenging roles in ground units is that of a military sniper. Military snipers must take long distance shots with precision rifles, often doing a fair amount of math in their heads to make a bullet reach its target. A new guided-bullet technology, however, promises to make longer distance shots a little easier by installing guidance systems in bullets.

The mission of the sniper is to take out targets at ranges farther than your typical rifleman, from five hundred yards out to two thousand yards. Snipers rely on specialized training, accurized, high power rifles and quality optics to reliably hit targets that are often mere specks on the horizon. These targets typically include anything from specialized enemy troops (engineers, heavy weapon operators) to command, control, and communications targets (radio operators, officers.) Snipers may also engage material targets, such as antennas, aircraft and light vehicles.

In addition to mere distance, snipers must contend with the technical limitations of their weapons and physics to make long range shots. Once they exit the barrel, bullets immediately start slowing down as gravity begins to exert an influence. This causes bullets to travel in a gradual downward arc. Bullets are also vulnerable to weather conditions, particularly wind, and are increasingly vulnerable to environmental conditions as they lose velocity.

Snipers, armed with ballistic data based on previous engagements, can often predict how a bullet will travel under local conditions. A sniper, for example, would know how much a 7.62-millimeter bullet would drop at a range of eight hundred yards, and how a six-mile-an-hour crosswind will blow the bullet off course. Armed with this knowledge snipers can adjust their weapons accordingly to place a bullet on target at ranges of up to a mile—or more.

A sniper can reliably overcome the effects of distance, though the act of collecting needed data (distance, wind speed, humidity) to determine course corrections delays the shot. One method of simplifying this is to use a ballistic computer that automatically collects the data and projects an adjusted aiming point onto a sniper scope display. Another is to make the bullet itself a guided weapon.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has taken the latter approach. EXACTO, or Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance bullets turns .50 caliber bullets into guided rounds capable of zeroing in on a target. Although DARPA is mum on how it does this, other sites report that the technology involves optical sensors in the nose of the bullet and fins capable of adjusting the bullet’s flight path in the tail. The optical sensor apparently homes in on a spot illuminated by a laser designator. The guidance system is similar to laser-guided weapons such as the Maverick and Hellfire laser-guided missiles. The bullet is even capable of making some remarkably sharp course corrections.

The rest of the article speaks a bit about the program prior to 2014, and speculates that something like this may have already been fielded by SoF units. I'd be very interested to see what the price of an individual round is-shooting a $1000 round would obviously require a very high value target to justify.

Still, with computing power, sensors and miniaturization coming farther and farther down in price, things like this will become more common.