Guided Bullets under Development

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging to develop new guided bullets and rifles that can fire them. Once completed, the new weapons would allow shooters to actively control the flight path of the bullets they fire. They could compensate for changes in the weather or air density and also effectively fire from more secure and covert locations.
Awarded under the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance or EXACTO project, the new system will include a next generation scope, a .50 caliber projectile capable of real-time directional control, a guidance system capable of providing that control, and a rifle. The projectile shape is still under discussion as are the exact methods of guidance control and projectile tracking. DARPA has not publicly released any bullet distance or accuracy requirements for the new bullets.
EXACTO is split into three phases. The initial phase consists of preliminary designs, risk assessments, and Monte Carlo simulations to illustrate that the proposed designs meet performance objectives. The second phase of the project involves more detailed designs, further risk assessments, prototype fabrication, and live firing of prototypes. The final phase involves more extensive system testing. Lockheed Martin was awarded $12.3 million for the first phase while Teradyne was awarded $9.5 million for the first phase of the project. Additional funding will be appropriated after the completion of that phase. Each contractor will create its own full system with no requirement that they interact or use the same components.
While the formal performance requirements for EXACTO are classified and revolve around distance, accuracy, and target speeds, DARPA has released several additional goals for the final system. Most important of those is weight; the entire system including ammunition, rifle, scope, and operating instructions should weigh no more than 46 pounds. They also hope to see secure and tamper-proof designs, cartridges with at least a 10 year shelf life, a power system capable of lasting through an entire 14 hour day, and the ability to use current ammunition (without real time guidance support).
Although required as part of the contractor proposals to DARPA, the time frame for each phase of the project and eventual deployment of the new weapons is not publicly available.
TFOT has reported on other innovative bullet related topics including variable speed bullets designed by a toy rocket company and a coil gun that stops bullets in midair. TFOT has also covered several current DARPA projects including the beer keg UAV about to be deployed in Iraq by the Pennsylvania National Guard, a new ultrasound cuff that limits bleeding from arm and leg injuries, and a new high resolution scope that should limit friendly fire incidents and collateral damage from military operations.
Information about the EXACTO project including a link to a detailed request for proposals outlining the non-classified requirements and the expectations for each phase of the project can be found here.

Top image: students at the army sniper school (Credit:U.S. Army).

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About the author

Janice Karin

Janice Karin has a B.A in physics from the University of Chicago and a M.S. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to extensive experience as a technical writer focused on development tools, databases, and APIs, Janice has worked as a freelance reporter, editor, and reviewer with contributions to a variety of technology websites. One of her primary focuses has been on PDAs and mobile devices, but she is interested in many other areas of science and technology.

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