With an ability to strike from great distances, snipers present a unique threat in the field of battle. This long-range lethality is not without its complications, however, with accuracy often dictated by wind, rain and dust, not to mention targets that are constantly on the move. Over the last few months, DARPA has been conducting live-fire tests of guided .50 caliber bullets and today unveiled footage demonstrating the project's success.
With the aim of improving accuracy and safety for military snipers, DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) project is tasked with developing more accurate artillery that will enable greater firing range, minimize the time required to engage with targets and also help to reduce missed shots that can give away a troop's location.
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The EXACTO 50-caliber round is claimed to be the first ever guided small-caliber bullet. The maneuverable projectile uses a real-time optical guidance system to change its path mid-flight and home in on a target, potentially overcoming adverse weather and hostile conditions to improve sniper accuracy.
DARPA isn't giving too much away in terms of technical detail. However, if the illustration above is any indication, the steering mechanism used by DARPA appears different to the method used by a team at the Sandia National Laboratories back in 2012.
In that case, researchers developed a small-caliber guided bullet prototype capable of steering toward a laser-marked target 2 km (1.2 mi) away. This was accomplished by way of an optical sensor on the bullet's nose that gathers flight path information, while onboard electronics controlled tiny fins on its side to direct it toward the target. No such fins can be seen on the EXACTO round.
The DARPA footage, which can be seen below, demonstrates two rounds of live-fire testing. With the rifle intentionally aimed to the right of the marked target, the bullet can be seen veering in trajectory, altering its path to strike accurately over an undisclosed distance. DARPA claims the technology is likely to markedly extend the day and night-time range of current sniper systems.
Following the successful demonstration of the round's guidance systems and sensor, DARPA will now work to refine the technology to improve performance and conduct system-level live fire testing.