back to article DARPA's made a SELF-STEERING 50-cal bullet – with video proof

The military boffins at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have shown off how the latest version of their "steerable bullet" lets a complete novice hit a distant target with pinpoint accuracy. EXACTO Live-Fire Tests, February 2015, DARPA The firearms program, dubbed the EXtreme ACcuracy Tasked Ordnance ( …

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"The EXACTO round isn't intended for general use, but as a tool for long-range snipers that provide support for ground troops in the field. No details have been released on the cost of each unit – or the ammunition – but it's unlikely to be cheap."

True, but then again, if a novice can nail the target using this round, imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do with such a round even under extreme range or wind conditions. The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot. When one is all you need, they may consider the cost worth it if it saves time, other ammo, and especially lives.

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Anonymous Coward

"The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot"

Sorry, but speaking as someone with a military background who has served alongside US troops, the standard US approach is to just throw as many rounds as you can at the target and hope that something sticks. More emphasis is placed on keeping troops alive than conserving ammo.

And I choose to remain anonymous for obvious reasons...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot"

That ONLY came about during the Korean War when Chinese mass rushes kinda put the skids on "One Shot, One Kill". The jungles of Vietnam didn't help matters, either, but beyond that, especially from Desert Storm onwards, when ammo costs became an issue, standard issue firearms do not allow for full-auto. The emphasis for ground troops today is somewhere in the middle: tactical bursts of several rounds at a time, both to hit targets and to keep them pinned down with covering fire. Furthermore, Americans still value snipers in terms of force multiplication and overall savings. If they can nail a high-value target with a sniper vs. spray-and-pray, they'll try the sniper first.

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"imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

I imagine he could hit the target as well. Most of the skill of a sniper is in predicting what the bullet and target is going to do before pulling the trigger. This technology removes the need for that skill.

Couldn't find much information about how it works, one article talked about optical guidance and the bullets having fins. Bullets guiding themselves onto laser lit targets seems the most practical.

The rifle (with a fancy laser pointer) won't be expensive but also won't be rifled so no use for anything else. Can't imaging the bullets are going to be cheap.

Impressive to get that in such a small package that can stand the forces but being full of electronics and motors instead of depleted uranium or explosives I can't help thinking range and damage will be compromised. Maybe small laser guided rockets would be more effective at a similar cost.

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Re: "The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot"

You have my curiosity up... which branch? In the 60's the Marine doctrine was single-shot, single-kill. Automatic fire was for the machinegun. The Army on the other hand, believed in massive suppressive fire... until they were out of bullets. It wasn't until towards the end of Vietnam that the Army started some training and testing of the single-shot, single-kill doctrine.

However, having said that, once the shooting starts, all bets are off. Some will shoot with well-placed single shots. Others will cut loose and empty the magazine.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

Thing is, a trained sniper can correct at least some for wind and motion, allowing EXACTO more leeway and allowing for hitting targets outside the sniper's unassisted skills due to range or wind.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

An un-rifled barrel can be just as useful if you care to put fins on your bullets. All main battle tank guns are smooth bore and they generally don't fire guided munitions. Granted you're going to lose some accuracy over a rifled barrel but then again, how often do snipers actually shoot at really long ranges?

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"True, but then again, if a novice can nail the target using this round, imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do with such a round even under extreme range or wind conditions. The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot. When one is all you need, they may consider the cost worth it if it saves time, other ammo, and especially lives."

Actually the trained scout will do SFA for extreme range or wind. His training helps him compensate for it with unguided bullets but with a guided bullet, software takes over the moment it's fired. For starters the rifles are now smooth bore because you don't need it to fly true when it can change course.

His training will have more use in camouflage and positioning.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

>All main battle tank guns are smooth bore

Apart from the ones that aren't, like Challenger II's L30A1

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

According to the quote from the article, the shot is taken from a "standard rifle." Where did the assumption a smoothbore will be required come from?

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

"All main battle tank guns are smooth bore and they generally don't fire guided munitions."

Errr. Apart from those that aren't. The L30A1 in the Challenger is rifled. Indeed, there is a long history of rifled guns in tanks. The L11A5 in the Chieftain. There has also been a long list of British 105mm tank guns, which are all rifled and have been exported very widely.

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Really?

"The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot."

Over the years, the US has got a reputation for bombing the living daylights out of everything. Rather than put troops in danger, they'd rather drop a huge amount of ordnance from the skies. I'm sure the people of Iraq and Afghanistan (especially the former) would agree with that in general. As far as I know, this has been so for many years. During Vietnam, the US was reknowned for mass bombing missions (generall unguided), which resulted in all sorts of bad press as villages and all sorts got hit, hence some very famous footage.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

"Where did the assumption a smoothbore"

You can't use fins to guide something spinning at a thousands of rpm.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

So it's not fin guided then.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

Look up the meaning of APFSDS. The round was more complex that a plain Jane APFS and may also be an explanation of the "standard weapon" comment. Rifled tank gun barrels were retained to allow the use of HESH, a multipurpose round.

I agree that APFSDS is not rotating once it is fired..

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"Actually the trained scout will do SFA for extreme range or wind. His training helps him compensate for it with unguided bullets but with a guided bullet, software takes over the moment it's fired. For starters the rifles are now smooth bore because you don't need it to fly true when it can change course."

But you need to at least get it close enough for the steering to compensate. The more extreme the range, the narrower the window before it becomes too much for the steering to correct and it misses. A trained sniper can help keep this from happening by removing the need for some of that correction, giving the round a better chance to stay on target.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

I remember reading an article - years ago - about guided bullets for aircraft. IIRC it was in Scientific American, but it could have been New Scientist or similar.

Anyway, the intended design involved the bullet flexing as it span, in one specific 'fold'. As the bullet is spinning, this has to happen very quickly, but this means that it can guide itself in any direction, and doesn't have additional drag.

The stated target price was high (again IIRC - $50 per bullet), but there were nevertheless expected to be savings from using a single round, rather than "filling the skies with lead".

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

"According to the quote from the article, the shot is taken from a "standard rifle." Where did the assumption a smoothbore will be required come from?"

Other previous articles stated the rifle was smoothbore as spinning the round made guidance impossible.

This isn't the first story about this

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

If it's smoothbore, it's not a rifle by definition. I can't see any articles confirming one way or the other, do you have a link?

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Re: "The US has historically held value in the savings of one well-placed shot"

There is a story that, during the American war of independence, a British sniper targeted George Washington, but refused to pull the trigger on the grounds that Washington was facing away from him. In those days the British considered it "unsporting" to shoot an officer in the back.

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Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

Not that a smooth bore is required, but rather that a rifled bore is unnecessary. Smooth bore as a general rule delivers higher muzzle velocity. But falls short in range because the drag of a tumbling bullet defeats the benefit. A rifled bore imparts spin which mitigates the problem of tumbling. But if the bullet can somehow maintain its orientation by other means than spin, then its back to smooth bore. Which incidentally simplifies manufacture and reduces wear.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "imagine what a trained Scout Sniper can do"

"But if the bullet can somehow maintain its orientation by other means than spin, then its back to smooth bore. Which incidentally simplifies manufacture and reduces wear."

There's also the issue IIRC that rifling only works up to a certain length:diameter ratio.

These days I think the primary tank ammunition doesn't need rifling. They either use fin-stabilized rounds (mainly anti-vehicular) that can keep straight by themselves or canister-type shot (anti-personnel) which acts like a shotgun and can't take advantage of rifling anyway.

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Coat

All we need now are bobbles

And we can have ourselves a peace war.

(Mines the one with a copy of Vernor Vinges' book in the pocket).

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Ru'

As a layman I'd hardly call 50 cal 'small' (but I guess when you're fitting target tracking and trajectory control gear inside one I guess it changes your perspective).

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I can tell you're not American.

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No videos of the 'moving target' changing direction though. It's always on a straight and level trajectory.

I'd be interested to see a video where the 'target' moves left after moving right or up and down.

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"I'd be interested to see a video where the 'target' moves left after moving right or up and down."

Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Who Framed Roger Rabbit...?

Cartoon bullets never miss. Unless it's funny of course.

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Anonymous Coward

cost of the unit

even if "not cheap", many times cheaper than sniper training. Sniping for the masses, hurrah!

Next step - a bullet that chases you when you try to dodge it... Humans are spectacularly inventive when they have a good motive, eh?

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Re: cost of the unit

Sniper training is not just marksmanship.

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The EXACTO round isn't intended for general use.

Pity. If it was, we might've stopped fetishising the special forces.

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Re: The EXACTO round isn't intended for general use.

Neither is an assault rifle but that hasn't stopped Americans from using them for "home defence"......

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Damn, knew I should've got a patent.

...but they'd likely have overturned it, me not being American.

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Anonymous Coward

I can safly say...

..that a relative of mine was looking at this for a UK military outfit about 20 years ago....looks like the tech has caught up with the ambitions.

Some uses included taking out bearings on tank turrents, engines on aircraft and other novel purposes.

The ideas were to disable vehicles, without the shooter being spotted or the damage being immediately obvious or easily repairable.

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Alert

How long will this remaqin exclusive to the US military?

Once this is in production, it will eventually get lost, sold or stolen. It can't be kept exclusive forever. And the technology can only improve, get cheaper, and be more available

What happens when anyone can get hold of a weapon that has a sure kill at such a range that you can't spot the attacker in advance?

For a start no US president will be able to appear in public ever again. But there will be many other unintended consequences.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How long will this remaqin exclusive to the US military?

> What happens when anyone can get hold of a weapon that has a sure kill at such a range that you can't spot the attacker in advance?

Everybody starts wearing anti-bullet scrambler devices that steer the rounds away from the wearer.

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Re: How long will this remaqin exclusive to the US military?

"What happens when anyone can get hold of a weapon that has a sure kill at such a range that you can't spot the attacker in advance?"

If the bullet is guidable who says the shooter needs to be near the gun?

Imagine I want to assassinate the president (please don't come black bag me tonight NSA) I could set up an unmanned rifle pointing into the general kill area I want and I could be in the crowd controlling it with a mobile phone. To all observers I'm just taking a photo with my phone along with the thousands there doing the same. I have no gun on me and I can pass through all security checkpoints.

Perfect assassin weapon.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How long will this remaqin exclusive to the US military?

You forget that security personnel are already wise to snipers so conduct thorough sweeps of the surrounding area before the VIP arrives. In order for the shot to be effective, you need to at least aim in the general region, and anywhere that's possible is also a possible vantage point for a trained unaided sniper. Meaning your gun would likely be spotted and the alert sounded before the VIP arrived.

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Anonymous Coward

".50BMG ball cartridges - a dumb lump of lead wrapped in a cupro-nickel jacket - cost about £3 each in Blighty. Vulture Central's backroom gremlins imagine a self-steering smart .50" round would easily cost double or triple that."

£9 for a steerable bullet? Your gremlins need to get out more.

I'd say 3000 times that (£3 that is), and still wondering if I should've added another zero.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Perhaps I oughta spend less time on the range and more time in the shops!

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Anonymous Coward

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic.

But consider this: .50cal BMG is globally available to both military and civilians. If some military wanted an exclusive 'dumb' high caliber round, it would cost them at least and order of magnitude more per pop.

Also, even at 10k per round it's still dirt cheap considering you can give a standard infantry rifleman a special device and with a straight face tell him to disable that enemy asset 5 km (eventually the technology will get there) away.

Once the technology is mature, I can see the price settling somewhere 500..1500 range.

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FAIL

> Perhaps I oughta spend less time on the

> range and more time in the shops!

perharps you should spend more time educating your gremlin self. Guided munitions start at $10000 per unit nowadays.

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"And the technology can only improve, get cheaper, and be more available"

Obviously. Most nations use laser-guided munitions these days, just like they adopted proximity-fused artillery shells. Often the hard part of engineering is proving something can be done. Once proven, it's quite a bit easier for others to duplicate. Or buy on the open market.

"What happens when anyone can get hold of a weapon that has a sure kill at such a range that you can't spot the attacker in advance?"

Regarding "sure kill," I think you're overrating laser-guided munitions. They do miss, they give a lot of warning when you start lasing the target, and they are subject to countermeasures. Laser-guided munitions are hardly new threats.

As for not spotting the attacker in advance, militaries have been dealing with that problem for a long time. Snipers were firing from unseen positions centuries ago and the 20th Century gave a lot of examples on how to function when over-the-horizon artillery started dropping shells on you.

"For a start no US president will be able to appear in public ever again. "

Supersonic anti-tank guided missiles with ranges of miles did not drive VIPs into hiding, even though most VIP teams have no defenses against them. No, the Popemobile and Presidential Limo don't have active defenses or reactive armor to shrug off an ATGM. A more-accurate small caliber weapon is likewise not going to drive anyone into hiding especially considering the preferred range of most assassins.

No VIP security detail is perfect. They reduce risks and provide a deterrent. When someone - or some larger organization - puts effort into defeating that security, you will run into situations that overmatch the security. Heck, lately the Secret Service isn't even stopping threats it should be able to handle. Reagan was shot by someone standing among his security detail, and a knife-wielding maniac just jumped the fence and ran through the White House.

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EXACTO?

isn't ExactoTM already taken in the US for craft knives? Or is it now defunct as a TM and has become a generic term?

PS Can I nominate this for the El Reg "Most Contrived Acronym, 2015" competition?

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Re: EXACTO?

Trademarks can be separated by industry. Take the name "Cracker Barrel". There are at least TWO trademarks in active use for the name: one for a line of Kraft cheeses (honest cheeses, albeit very common varieties), another for an "old country" style restaurant/shop chain. As long as it's understood the two different trademarks don't compete in the same markets and are distinct enough so as not to be confused, the USPTO will allow the trademarks to stand.

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Anonymous Coward

There are some nice images to be found at http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Extreme_Accuracy_Tasked_Ordnance_%28EXACTO%29.aspx

Definitely no fins.

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Black Helicopters

@John Hughes.

Sorry 'bout that -- enjoy the plane trip.

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