Well, here's some breaking news from the world of shocking military technology! According to CNN, the U.S. military is developing self-steering bullets, a genuine marvel of modern engineering, if a reflexively worrying one. Here's the upshot, and no, that was not a pun: the military research and development agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), reportedly had an extremely productive test of their new "smart bullet" technology in February, which allowed both an experienced and inexperienced shooter to hit a moving target.
The project and bullet itself is referred to as EXACTO, which stands for Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance. The details are still pretty scant so far, just as you'd expect — it stands to reason that the specifics of cutting-edge ammunition development isn't the sort of thing the government is going to offer much insight into. And moreover, the bullets are still in development, and due for further testing.
But according to CNN's report, we do know at least this much: EXACTO makes use of optical sensors, which communicate the directional information to tiny fins wrapped around its outside. The fins change position to induce the change in direction, and thus, the bullet bends or twists strangely through the air. A video that DARPA uploaded to YouTube on Monday demonstrates this, showing a dramatic, abrupt change of course in bullets fired at a moving target.
And there you have it! It's hard to know how quite to feel about stories like this. At the same time as EXACTO could hopefully be beneficial to increasing precision and reducing collateral damage in combat, there's also an undeniably cautious feeling that comes with hearing about such huge strides forward in the science of warfare.
The entire concept is no doubt exciting to the military, however, considering its applications for snipers. And according to DARPA program manager Jerome Dunn, EXACTO's success with .50 caliber bullets could herald similar developments in other calibers.
True to DARPA's mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target. 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.
It'll be fascinating to see how quickly this technology comes along — this is just one of a slew of surprising, starkly futuristic-seeming projects DARPA has discussed over the last year or so, including their Spider-Man style wall-climbing gloves, floating aircraft carriers, and brain implants.