back to article Steerable bullet aims for mass army deployment

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratory are developing a steerable bullet designed for general military use, giving the standard squaddie the capabilities of an advanced sniper. Bullets that can adjust their flight have been under research for some time, and DARPA is three years into research into a steerable .50-caliber …


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  1. LaeMing Silver badge

    I call HAX!

    They're using HAX! No fair! This battlefield SUX!

  2. beep54
    Big Brother

    In 1989 K. W. Jeter published a novel titled Death Arms which included the concept of a 'slow' bullet. It might not get there fast but it always finds its target. I thought this was rather way fanciful at the time, but now.....?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      The steerable bullet idea was in a Perry Rhodan novel I picked up in 87 or so about an architect building whole cities on distant planets.

      But give this to US kiddies in MARPAT™? Great, now we gonna have dead civvies with 100% accuracy. Yup, great win. Couldn't get any better.

      1. Nigel 11


        It features in Vinge's "The Peace War", published 1984. No rifling, low muzzle velocity. His design was/is still a bit in the future, it was "fire and forget" using image processing to stay locked on what it was fired at.

  3. Ben winnipeg
    Thumb Up


    this makes me think of that movie from 1984 "runaway" with Tom Selleck. the had bullits like that...

    1. Richard Ball

      I was going to mention Runaway...

      But instead I'll mention the smart-bullets in "Who framed Roger Rabbit". Those were mexican if I remember correctly.

      1. Richard 81

        "Tuh, dumdums."

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guns! We need more Guns!

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Those aren't guided bullets...

    *These* are guided bullets...

  6. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Re the picture

    "A laser designator guides the round to its target"

    Well, I found lots of targets in this picture but none where the bullet hit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Target doesn't have to be line of sight

      I think in the picture they are demonstrating that the target doesn't have to be line-of-sight; the laser designator can operate from a different location from the shooter, even from a micro-drone.

      1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re line of sight

        AC, I agree. But why would the developer issue a picture which shows a streered trajectory hitting grassland? That way it looks like steered not targeted.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Target doesn't have to be line of sight

          It does - for the lazor beam to hit it (unless you are using someone else to paint the target).

          However, the target can be so far away that it can only be hit by indirect fire with high elevation and yet with precise aiming. That is the advantage.

          Currently the 50cal guns are sometimes being used to fire indirectly at distant targets but I believe such fire has mostly harassing effect. But if it can be aimed properly it will increase the effective range of your weapon dramatically. Fire at 45 degrees in the sky, then chase your mark with the laser beam - sounds like fun for a teenager 'merkin soldier.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: "none where the bullet hit."

            Just shows - Dr Kleiner's not a good shot, laser or not...

  7. Jonathan White

    If you need to use a designator, why not just get a bigger laser?

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Because a laser big enough is a lot bigger than an additional gun (or barrel), a designator and a few of these rounds?

  8. TeeCee Gold badge
    Black Helicopters

    Crystal Ball.

    I'll have my Mystic Meg award now please.

    I even predicted .50 cal....

    1. melt
      IT Angle


      Aaaa! How did you do that link?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        BetaTesting Post Enhancements

        "Aaaa! How did you do that link?" .... melt Posted Tuesday 31st January 2012 10:00 GMT

        Hi, melt,

        El Reg are road testing, with a selection/collection/conspiracy of commentards, a few extra bells and whistles on the facilities that they provide to the great unwashed, so that their views can be, ideally, better expressed with added tangents [think added formatting tools] such as the one which provides an active and informative hyperlink like that one and the one you asked about

  9. The BigYin


    Let's say a bullet costs $1 (I have no idea what the cost actually is).

    How much does this one cost and how accurate is Private Snuffy?

    If Private Snuffy hits one time in ten, that's $10 to hit the intended target.

    If this bullet costs any more than $10, it does not make economic sense.

    Although it does bring into play the Chris Rock theory on gun control. Make the guns cheap, but the bullets so hideously expensive that no one can afford to shoot.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      but it depends on the value of the target. An M2 firing to supress an area is gonna use up more ammo. A burst of 5-10 smart rounds that are pretty likely to hit their target is a much better proposition. Ammo also takes up weight and cargo area. Two cases of smart ammo vs 20 cases of regular also makes supply easier.

      How they are going to sync the lase to the round will be fun. The enemy can "repaint" other friendlies or even civvies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Danny 14

        laser - pulse encoded with some kind of signature, bullets seek only this signature.

      2. Dorobuta

        Just like laser designators for other guided munitions, the beam is invisible to the naked eye. You'd have to know you're being lased, know the color of the laser, and know where the shot was coming from.

        The seeker on the bullet is going to have a limited field of vision.The bullet would not be able to see a target 180 from the point of aim. The amount of correction available is dependent on the speed of the projectile and the distance to the target. Gross corrections will drastically slow the bullet down, as it is not traveling under power. I suspect that there is a narrow field of vision, 24 - 30 degrees at most, that it has.

        It will have nowhere the same kinetic energy that a conventional .50 caliber has using a 600 - 750 gr bullet at around 3,000 fps vs this much lighter, slower round.

        Good anti-personnel round. Probably very useful against someone who is going to shoot at you with an RPG.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Accuracy tends to be worse than that.

      Especially since most gunfire these days is suppressive. Since this is going to an M2 machine gun, which is a squad weapon (as in only one man in the squad--the machine-gunner--uses this), this looks to be a tactical weapon, meant for short bursts to help take out distant hardened targets. You know, paint the target, fire about 10 rounds or so (depending on the target) and watch them hit. It would reduce the need for anti-materiel snipers in these cases and would have different uses than those other future squad weapons like the XM-25 (which appears to be more an anti-personnel weapon).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not quite a SAW...

        I'd hate to be the sqaddie who was tasked with carrying a Ma Duce over a M240 or M249 as a Squad Automatic Weapon! They're usually vehicle mounted, being pretty big and heavy and needing a tripod or mount. Not exactly something you can fire from the hip.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          RE: Noy quite a SAW

          I suggest the eventual weapon used by the PBI squads will be a smoothbore rifle, something developed from the Barrett M82, for example, in the hands of the designated Marksman. I too would not like to lug the M2HB around - a friend had to lug one up the hills from the beach at San Carlos, and said it took five of them several hours and just about killed them!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > If Private Snuffy hits one time in ten, that's $10 to hit the intended target.

      If Snuffy was consistently hitting 1 in 10 he wouldn't still be a private.....

      I believe that for the Vietnam war figures range between 300,000 and 500,000 rounds fired per confirmed casualty. Smart munitions could easily be a cost saver.

    4. Ignazio

      Read somewhere an average sniper round is 3.75 pound sterling apiece. Accuracy of the average private with average assault rifle is in the hundred of thousands rounds fired per hit - most of them not aimed at all but fired in the general direction where the enemy is supposed to be, acting as cover for friendlies advancing. Cost of the round is not important here, the applications are completely different.

  10. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Me - I'm getting a mirrorball

    and a couple of lasers for a constellation of targets - should make a cool hat!

    1. CraPo
      Thumb Down

      Re: Mirrorball

      Might not go down well with your mates who are getting repeatedly repainted. A bit like a ballistic game of pass the parcel

  11. Kevin7

    So it's a miniature guided missile then?

    1. annodomini2


      A missile is self propelled.

      This is a guided projectile.

      1. easyk

        in the military world I think you are correct but a missile can also refer to the unpowered projectile. for example the arrow launched from a bow.

        1. annodomini2

          "in the military world I think you are correct but a missile can also refer to the unpowered projectile. for example the arrow launched from a bow."

          It's a misuse of the term, an arrow is still a projectile and not a missile.

          1. easyk

            I am not an Etymologist but

            from the Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828)

            Mis"sile, n. [L. missile.] A weapon thrown or projected or intended to be projcted, as a lance, an arrow, or a bullet.

            I am not aware of any guidance systems (except suicidal biplanes) in use by 1913.

            1. annodomini2

              Lots of contradictory stuff on the net

              Cambridge dictionary states it must be thrown or propelled.

              Oxford, is as above.

              I think it's safe to say, no-one agrees on the correct definition!

              1. easyk


                Well I'm glad we could settle this matter for all humanity. Who says comment sections are pointless.

      2. David Eddleman


        A rocket is self-propelled but the difference between a missile and a rocket is guidance. A rocket is dumbfire or with minimal guidance, whereas a missile can be guided through television feed, wire feed, IR, GPS, image recognition, and more.

  12. Steve 26

    Tin foil hats

    In other news, the Taliban show the first practical use of tin foil hats.

    1. Jim Mitchell

      That would help the projectile. What you want is a hat that is perfectly absorbent at the laser frequency.

      1. easyk

        a pure spcular reflection is just as useless as 100% absorbtion. Even if you get lucky and get the full return it will probably be too bright and saturate the receiver.

  13. Mephistro Silver badge

    A free prediction fresh from my own crystal ball

    Two years after deployment, all the 'enemies' - whoever they are at the moment- will be able to manufacture bullets like these and use them against American forces. As they don't have to support all that Military-Industrial Complex overhead, the 'counterfeited' steerable bullets will be cheaper and probably better built.

    This kind of situation is what ACTA was designed for.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: A free prediction fresh from my own crystal ball

      "....all the 'enemies' - whoever they are at the moment- will be able to manufacture bullets like these and use them against American forces....." Really? Laser-guided artillery rounds (like the 155mm Copperhead) have been in use for many years (since the '80s IIRC), but I don't hear reports of the Taleban making use of them. Even laser-guided mortar rounds (such as Saab's Strix) have been available for quite a while, let alone "smart" anti-tank missiles with all types of guidance, yet the Taleban's main weapons are the AK, RPG and the IED. Even when the US and Allies meet adversaries like Saddam, who had quite an arsenal of advanced gear, the bad guys seem to come off a lot worse. It's not just about having the tech, it's about using it as part of a balanced force in a concentrated (and overwhelming) method. Me thinks your crystalball needs a polish.

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Didya miss the icon Matt?


  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A few notes

    Technically this is a guided "projectile" like a smart artillery shell (without the GPS and IMU).

    The device in Runaway (Tom Selleck, Kirstie Alley and Michael Creighton as director) *was* a missile modeled on the "Dragon" anti-tank missile. It was also an imaging sensor, while this is for like a line follower. It would be interesting to find out the pattern of the 8 sensors.

    The 8 bit comment suggest they are serious about this being a low cost device. Had it been 32 bit it could been the biggest ARM's sale ever.

    Historically laser designators have been pulse width modulated with a pattern which the sensor knows about. Not sure if this has been adjustable.

    Note the game is changing. The number of laser frequencies used is limited and they have to keep being pointed *at* the target till it hits. A fairly simple (non imaging) detector with a wide FOV and suitable sensitive detector would make an adequate early warning device. Remember in Afghanistan it was *assumed* drone video could *never* be intercepted by the insurgents?

    This sounds like it could be a cost effective piece of kit but don't expect to surprise people when you start shooting at them.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re surprise

      Except if the laser designator is synchronised with the gun. If the laser is activated not before the gun is fired or even long (long in terms of bullet speed) after the projectile left the barrel, this wouldn't leave much lead time for not being surprised.

    2. easyk

      Designator warning systems exist already so spend too much time trying to patent it. :) The 8 bitter comment seems like press release drivel where someone summarized a powerpoint of a design review. Of course you will use an 8 bit micro, what else would you use (for the prottype)? When you are ready for production bake an ASIC. Standard stuff really.

      The assumption with the unencrypted video was not that it would not be intercepted but that when it was it would be such a narrow FOV with no info overlays that it would be rather useless. Maybe they were wrong but they had to make a choice of fielding something not perfect but good or not fielding.

  15. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    A new battlefield problem...

    You missed, private! Did you forget to charge your bullets' batteries overnight, you moron?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hear they are working on AI bullets

    that use image recognition to detect turbans and protesters. To combat all threats to America, both foreign and domestic.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      you forgot

      copyright infringers

      1. The Original Cactus

        and Twitter users.

  17. Is it me?

    Solve that one Grissom

    I'd expect the US to allow its citizens to buy these, I should think the NRA are having orgasms all over the place at the prospect, and they will certainly fall into the hands of criminals, if only through corrupt military, it's just a matter of time. Once that happens its a short step to your local terrorist.

    So the CSIs will have the joy of trying to work out the firing position of a guided bullet, just think of the freedom that will give to bump off your next door neighbour without detection.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Solve that one Grissom

      ".....So the CSIs will have the joy of trying to work out the firing position....." OK, consider the actual act of firing off such a bullet. First, you have the gunshot - and forget suppressors, they just make it harder to tell EXACTLY where a shot came from, but witnesses will be able to still point to a general area. Secondly, you still have area discharge (no, not the kind in a tissue), with gunsmoke carbon marking the area you fired from (even flashless propellent leaves traces that can be found on clothing or in confined spaces). Then you have the weapon itself - a smoothbore .50 is not going to be small, so you have to get it to the firing point unseen, otherwise those witnesses will point you out again. Even if you do get there, then there's the small matter of the bullet itself - it is highly likely the bullets in question will have serial numbers on the electronics themselves if not on the actual bullet, leading back to the buyer (and the number of smooth-bore .50s will also be small, that's if Eric Horner doesn't just ban them). So, not an impossible task.

    2. CaptainHook

      "fall into the hands of criminals"

      I can't imagine this would be of any use for criminals. This technology is designed to improve on accuracy at range.

      When was the last time you saw a criminal shoot from 1km away, jump in a car, drive over to the target and take the purse off the still twitching corpse. Day to day criminal activity is by necessity about getting close to your target, whether it is human or material.

      Assassinations could benefit from this, especially the potential for indirect fire it gives, but I don't really count assassinations as a every-day criminal type of event.

      1. steward

        Stretch your imagination

        It will be a boon for criminals who wish to eliminate witnesses to a crime. Think of it, being able to kill witnesses from 2km / 1.25 mi away. This will *make* assassinations of witnesses to crime an every-day criminal type of event.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        One example: Lee H. Oswald?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "When was the last time you saw a criminal shoot from 1km away, jump in a car, drive over to the target and take the purse off the still twitching corpse. Day to day criminal activity is by necessity about getting close to your target, whether it is human or material."

        How about the washington sniper? Not every murder is about theft. Of course, the washington sniper also showed how hard it is to trace someone shooting from a distance, even with a conventional weapon. I doubt a steerable weapon will make things much more difficult. You have more difficulty tracking trajectories, but then you have a tonne of extra equipment as well.

    3. david wilson

      >>"So the CSIs will have the joy of trying to work out the firing position of a guided bullet, just think of the freedom that will give to bump off your next door neighbour without detection."

      I imagine in reality, it's a bit harder than the TV would suggest to find a corpse or two with a bullet hole in, guess their exact position and attitude at the time they were shot, break out the lasers, and have them pinpoint the precise window in a 50-storey building that the shot came from.

    4. TeeCee Gold badge

      Easy one. Plug a laptop into the smart bullet and ask it where it came from.

      Coming soon in the next series of "CSI Fairytale Land".

  18. JDX Gold badge

    re: Cost

    That assumes that hitting things _other_ than your target _doesn't_ incur a cost. And that they're always shooting at targets they _can_ hit using regular bullets.

  19. stu 4


    er... for a bullet travelling at ~1000 mph 30/sec adjusting doesn't seem that useful ?

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      It's good enough for Youtube "killcam" videos!

    2. F111F

      Assuming my Math is Correct

      A bullet traveling at 1,000mph with an on-board processor working at 30hz equates to about one decision approximately every 48ft or it 50ft to make nice round number.

      A 2,000m shot would be about 6,560ft, or about 130 decisions along the flightpath. The article doesn't cover how the sensor works with the direction changing apparatus, so there might be only a limited number of times the fins can adjust the bullet's trajectory (power issue, time to move the fins, etc) so I'm not sure the 130 decisions can be translated into how many course corrections are available and how much deflection can be achieved.

  20. Jonathan Richards 1

    That word doesn't mean what you think it means

    From TFA: "Ordinance"

    - an authoritative rule or law; a decree or command

    Probably meant: "Ordnance"

    - cannon or artillery

    Even then "Ordnance" refers to the weapon, not the projectile.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's the threat of ordnance that makes the ordinance authoritative.

  21. Graham Wilson

    Fascinating and troublesome.

    1. Isn't it interesting to observe we humans seem much better at inventing technology for killing one another than we are at say curing cancer.

    2. Presumably the development of this homing bullet was necessitated by the fact the US military no longer trains grunts to the same high level of rifle marksmanship as their highly trained WWII predecessors (Pentagon economists presumably consider it no longer necessary and there's a better ROI to be had elsewhere).

    BTW, US Military rifle training in WWII was considered the finest of its kind and all grunts were trained to the same high standard of marksmanship. If you're interested then check out US Army's Signal Corps WWII training film 'Rifle Marksmanship with the M1 Rifle': (video)

    3. It seems to me this bullet is in the electronic warfare category, thus there's a strong incentive for opponents to develop countermeasures (blinding/swamping the laser for instance), thus this new weapon represents a very new ballgame for today's grunts.

    Infantry grunts have always had the rotten deadly job at the sharp edge of a war and they suffer mightily. If I were their commanding officer when this technology was introduced, then I'd still want them to be very well trained in traditional marksmanship. Not only are the effects of such training well understood but also the standard rifle had always been the fallback weapon for all services. Even in this high tech world a normal bullet is hard to stop or deflect in flight and it can't be jammed by electronic countermeasures. And a soldier trained so well that he automatically bulls-eyes his target without thinking is and will remain a formidable foe.

    In any endeavour, introducing new and appropriate technology is fine and a step forward; but it's even better to also ensure that those who use it have strong, well-understood foundation in the traditional skills that underpin it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge


      "BTW, US Military rifle training in WWII was considered the finest of its kind and all grunts were trained to the same high standard of marksmanship. If you're interested then check out US Army's Signal Corps WWII training film 'Rifle Marksmanship with the M1 Rifle':"

      The Korean War showed there were limits to limited but accurate fire. Taking out 8 guys in 8 bullets won't help much if there were still 4 more able to storm your position. The big problem about dealing with the Chinese was that Americans tended to be greatly outnumbered. You needed a force equalizer in that kind of scenario and machine guns and assault rifles provided that equalizer. Its also a reason why the suppressive fire technique was adopted: to pin the enemy down and keep them from moving while you dealt with them so that they couldn't continue to advance on you in the meantime.

      1. Graham Wilson
        Thumb Up

        @Charles 9 - I agree with you.

        There's nothing in your reply with which I'd disagree. Even before Korea it was known the vast majority of bullets never hit intended targets and that improved marksmanship would have made little difference to this number. Korea finally exemplified the 'force equalizer' argument to where most agreed with the blindingly obvious.

        A stark and horrific reminder from the previous war where rifle marksmanship amounted for little was the 116th Regiment at Omaha. Every soldier in that tragically unfortunate regiment would have seen the training film to which I referred in my earlier post, nevertheless at Omaha the training would have been of little use.

        'Force equalizers' at Omaha were the defenders' MG42s, 88mm shells etc., and the sheer weight of numbers and huge resources of the Allied Forces together with their good planning and cleaver operational tactics. In many situations precision gives way to brute force; for example, weapons such as the beautifully machined and accurate Bren gun are outclassed in jungle environments by the cheaper pressed-metal AK47 where its widely-deviating trajectory spreads out like a cone which is often a decided advantage against hidden enemy.

        The broader and important point I was making was that to become truly proficient at something (here the launching of homing bullets), it's not just sufficient to study the subject itself but there's also a need to have a wide knowledge of allied fields. Not only does this provide a wider understanding of the topic but it also provides a wide range of additional skills that equip one to easily adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

        Of course, I'm also having a dig at modern-day training that so often just focus on the key subject alone. In warfare, where unpredictability and happenstance reign supreme, soldiers need to muster a huge range of skills just to stay alive. What's at stake is life itself, thus it's incumbent on the military not to short-change solders with bad or inadequate training.

  22. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    I remember several cartoons containing bullets, which skidded round corners (maybe in a roadrunner cartoon). Should Warner Bros. or MGM claim prior art?

    1. Graham Wilson
      Thumb Up

      @Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      A joke--yes, but you're correct.

      There's several major problems with copyright and patent law, but perhaps the most significant of them--and to my mind the most troubling--is the 'prior art/already in the public domain' issue.

      No one can invent or create something without that person having gotten most of the knowledge that's gone into the creation other than by sitting on the shoulders of those who've gone before. Everything: one's parents, society, being socialized, popular culture, schooling, education etc. are all prerequisites that are integrally a part of any invention or creation.

      Unfortunately, laws give totally exclusive rights to the inventor/creator, and in the case of copyright, it's for the life of the creator plus 70 years. Clearly, this isn't fair as most of the knowledge that went into the creation originally came from the public domain.

      Of course, any fair system must acknowledge the creator's right to a fair deal for his or her effort but also there should be some rights society; for after all, the public domain belongs to society itself.

      There's a need in this information age to accept the principle that no single person should have total and exclusive rights of ownership over a creation once he or she has made it available for sale, negotiation, distribution etc. The big issue ought to be how best to divide this ownership fairly.

      1. david wilson

        >>"Unfortunately, laws give totally exclusive rights to the inventor/creator, and in the case of copyright, it's for the life of the creator plus 70 years. Clearly, this isn't fair as most of the knowledge that went into the creation originally came from the public domain."

        In the case of copyright, it's not obvious that potential Creator 2 is prevented from doing a different set of 'last steps' to Creator 1 to make a different product.

        Someone produces a film of Sondheim's Sweeny Todd musical, which was itself based on the old story.

        Are they stopping anyone else writing their own musical version of the old story?

        Someone patents an electronic device which is made from existing components by well-known construction techniques, and designed using principles of Electrical Engineering.

        Are they stopping anyone else making a different product using those components and techniques and principles?

        Are they even necessarily stopping someone making a competing device using a different design? (and even if sometimes they do, that's just an argument for better operation of the patent system).

        As long as they're not crapping in the public domain well that they drank from, using 'similarity' claims to fence off areas other people might well have gone into in future, or claiming the rights to stuff someone did before them, they're not necessarily doing anything wrong.

        1. Graham Wilson

          @david wilson - Re ">>"Unfortunately, laws give totally exclusive rights... etc."

          I've little disagreement with your view, a summary of mine are:

          1. Copyright & patent issues are complex so the public is turned off by them. Thus copyright lawyers have always had the whole field to themselves, now there's fightback by users.

          2. When existing laws/treaties were formed (Berne Copyright Convention, 1886), they were developed in a one-sided environment, end-users and public domain arguments were hardly considered. Then we didn't have the internet to whip up user backlash. Essentially, it was a 'walkover' for copyright holders (Victor Hugo and cronies), and a lay down misère for users. Now it's time to redress the balance a little.

          3. Copyrights are total and exclusive for their duration, little distinction is made between the different things that are copyrighted. For example, it seems logical that different rules ought to apply to say popular culture (movies, plays, music etc.) than to prosaic instructions in an operational manual or to orphaned works where no one claims ownership of them. In today's copyright law they're all essentially the same, which doesn't make sense unless you're a copyright holder who wants the status quo to remain (which comes down to 'we want no tampering with our absolute and exclusive rights, even if they're unfair and illogical').

          4. Copyrights are way too long, outrageously so. There's many arguments for this but I'll only cite one: statistics show that most copyrights are essentially worn out after 17 years from publication. Monies to be made from them after this time are negligible and thus they should enter the public domain. There are however special/demonstrable cases where it's not so. In such circumstances a copyright board could extent copyrights on a yearly basis.

          5. All copyrights incorporate at least some stuff from the public domain, thus exclusive rights awarded to an individual is effectively stealing from the public domain. Even if this input is small it still must be counted.

          1. david wilson


            Re: 2)

            Surely in 1886, the users had few automated means of copying anything. Even if there had been steampunk internet for backlash-transmission, without photocopiers, printers, etc, there wouldn't have been much for 'users' to say even if they'd been asked. Most battles would likely have been between one or other commercial publisher

            Re: 3)

            Surely, there's a point where instructions in a manual can be rewritten without infringing copyright - if there really only is pretty much one way of saying things, there must be a limit to how much the instructions could be copyrighted?

            Re: 4)

            It'd be interesting to see what effect digital distribution might have.

            Potentially it might mean that where previously a point would come where it was not thought worth doing reprints of a book even if there might be buyers out there, in future, slow sales might keep going rather longer.

            The commercial life of a book might increase, and there'd also be more opportunity for someone dropping their royalties if they thought that might boost sales.

            There could be an argument for saying that below some threshold, while the creator might still be getting something, the royalty was low enough that it wasn't a meaningful barrier for most people, and so letting copyright run for a long-ish period was not too objectionable.

            If the royalty for a book that would take many hours to read was only the equivalent of a few minutes' work at minimum wage...

            1. Graham Wilson
              Thumb Up

              @david wilson -- Re @Graham -- part 1

              Re: 2. You're absolutely correct. What happened in the 1870s-'80s, as a result of good productivity and better manufacturing techniques in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, cheap and reliable self-contained printing presses became readily available which were often used by sleazebag publishers.

              Even though there were exiting copyright laws at the time, they'd take and copy just about everything from sheet music to encyclopaedia then flog them in street markets and such places where traceability was difficult. As copyright law was a civil law matter (and it remained so until recently), it meant that copyright owner had to take civil action in court himself, which was often difficult and unsuccessful.

              The copyright problem was especially troublesome in France, UK and the US--the main centers of the then publishing world. Unfortunately, local country-wide laws weren't applicable internationally--for example, take a book published in the UK and then publish it with impunity in the US or elsewhere. To stop this blatant piracy, the French author Victor Hugo and mates collaborated to get the international Berne Copyright Convention of 1886, this meant that in signatory countries a copyright owner could publish in one country and sue for violation in another. The trouble was that it was 'their' treaty so it was extremely lopsided in that it gave copyright holders everything they wanted including total and exclusive rights to do whatever they wanted. The only others to have a say were libraries, and they did get some concessions.

              As printing, copying etc. remained difficult for over the next hundred or so years, copyright holders got themselves into a totally unassailable position with respect to copyright, as they no one to challenge them. And if anyone did, it was usually another publisher arguing technicalities over market distribution rights. Thus it meant that rights holder were mightily affronted when easy copying technology came along.

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            4. Graham Wilson

              @david wilson -- Re: @Graham -- part 2

              Re: 3)

              "Surely, there's a point where instructions in a manual can be rewritten without infringing copyright - if there really only is pretty much one way of saying things, there must be a limit to how much the instructions could be copyrighted?"

              No so. Copyright is totally automatic (another win for Hugo and cronies). Here's a trivial instance:

              "Take a USB memory stick, check the gold plated contacts are clean, then insert the device into the USB socket."

              It's trivial and unlikely anyone would pursue it legally, but the sentence is fully copyrighted by me, I don't have to register with anyone that I've written it, and I don't need to use the internationally agreed copyright symbol, (c). It doesn't matter whether it's about nuclear physics, or a whistle that I call by dog with or a Broadway musical, it's automatically in copyright. If you want to write the same instruction then you will either have to make it sufficiently different so there's no inference it originally came from me or you have get my permission to use it (a court determines whether it's close enough to breach copyright)

              An exception exists for small sections of a work to be quoted for review or used under 'fair use' provisions ('fair use' provisions are often contentions and end up in court).

              That's automatic copyright at work--no government to inform, no charges to pay and the rights are exclusively mine under law for as long as I live and they will remain in force with my estate for another 70 years after my death. Use it without my (my estate's) express permission and I/we can sue you.

              Right, it's outrageous, unfair, unreasonable and illogical (especially in this internet age where stuff's easily copied). However, that's the law in most countries and a longstanding international treaty that's almost impossible to change backs it up. This treaty also keeps governments in line if they loosen copyright provisions below the Convention's minimum requirement.

            5. Graham Wilson

              @david wilson -- Re: @Graham -- part 3

              Re: 4)

              "It'd be interesting to see what effect digital distribution might have."

              Digital distribution would, I reckon, increase the sales duration and uptake of books but by how much remains to be determined.

              We can, however, take statistics from the 20th Century. Conservatively, over 90% of ALL books etc. published in the past century are now out of print, unclaimed, or are no longer effectively owned by their authors or publishers! This massive percentage of publications are known as 'orphaned works' and they continue to be protected under copyright law.

              Clearly the reasons are that many authors lose interest in their work over time, or they realize the work is outdated and will no longer bring in royalties, or the author has died and has no successors, or the publisher has gone broke, or the work no longer has any relevance, and so on.

              Given these quite verifiable statistics, it's unlikely that the online take up may be as high as we'd think.

              Incidentally, orphaned works continue to remain in copyright. Even though they're no longer published or can be purchased, except perhaps on the secondhand market, no one can use them.

              The situation with respect to the continued unavailability of orphaned works amounts to 'legal' criminality, it's condoned and is legal under copyright acts worldwide and it's a part of the Berne Copyright Convention. This fraud and unmitigated sham has been and continues to be kept in place by authors and publishers. Even though they get no direct royalties out of orphaned works, this huge body of work is effectively competition against new works that authors and publishers can create.

              Copyright law has to be the only truly legal gravy train that's been institutionalized worldwide, with authors and publishers being its beneficiaries.

            6. Graham Wilson

              @david wilson -- Re: @Graham -- part 4

              ...Here's how the gravy train works:

              A perfectly good text book becomes an orphaned work, a school itself can't republish it because it's still protected under copyright law, so it has to buy newer much more expensive works from a current author.

              With 90% of books published in the 20th Century existing as orphaned works and that it's copyright law which is stopping them from being placed in the public domain, there can be no other reasonable description other than it's 'legalized criminality' on a worldwide scale and one that's gladly perpetrated by authors and publishers.

              ...And yet these same publishers and copyright holders still have the damn hide to be holier than thou over copyright pirates. In reality, they're the pirates as they've 'pirated' 90%+ of the 20th Century's books out of the public domain.

              Hell, why l aren't we rioting in the streets over this outrage?

            7. Graham Wilson

              @david wilson -- Re: @Graham -- part 5

              Re: 5.

              "That rather depends what position people choose to take on exactly what is being copyrighted."


              "At the very least, there's a kind of natural balancing going on there to some extent."

              I've essentially no disagreement with your rationale here, nor do I disagree with an author taking stuff from the public domain. It does become an issue in certain circumstances however.

              (I haven't time to fully develop this argument here in any detail [and I really must go too]; but I don't want to avoid it either.)

              The fundamental problem is with the absolute rights granted to copyright owners under law. It's an inward process where the copyright owner is granted exclusivity by the State, this in itself is unusual and it raises issues of fairness in a democracy--normally issues of ownership etc. can be contested under law but for copyright they can't be as the rights are absolute and conferred automatically. I'll leave the rest of this argument along with the moral/metaphysical ones for the moment but I'll briefly deal with secondary 'coupling effects' as I can easily illustrate them with an example.

              Say I'm a popular song writer and I write a popular catchy tune--the type that's hard to get out of one's head for days and every moment one seems to be humming it. Copyright law automatically enshrines me with total rights over the tune, and I don't even have any say in the matter, fact is the right are mine. So what I decide to do is to cut a record and have it broadcast.

            8. Graham Wilson

              @david wilson -- Re: @Graham -- part 6

              Re: 5 cont.

              What I've effectively done is to partially put the tune back into the public domain. As the recipient consumer can't 'un-hear' the tune nor can he unlearn it, or even get it out of his mind--yet he can't do anything about or capitalize on it in any way whosoever. In practical terms, he can't write the tune down, sing it, transcribe the music or do anything with it without the author's (my) imprimatur.

              On one hand, I've exclusive rights and on the other the user/listener/consumer has absolutely none. Moreover, I've 'infected' him with a meme, a part of my intellectual property, which he can't eradicate or get away from.

              It should be obvious there's something awfully wrong here but I'll leave its implications to another time.



              Similar 'coupling arguments' surface also with museums. When considering museums and art galleries etc., these issues also need to be considered:

              - education.

              - public interest issues.

              - the issue of state-owned museums and fee access (as in Commonwealth countries).

              - issues about who actually owns culture and who are the custodians of it.

              - museums have fixed locations, thus they cannot service everyone unless they're online.

              - the special case for war museums being forced to make hires documents of everything available to everyone (war being a special case--the Library of Congress, (LOC), voluntarily almost completely complies with this now with its remarkable online Civil War photographic collection).

              - what should copyright law state in respect of private museums that own culturally significant artifacts/documents/objects.

              ...And there's much more.

          2. david wilson


            >>5. All copyrights incorporate at least some stuff from the public domain, thus exclusive rights awarded to an individual is effectively stealing from the public domain. Even if this input is small it still must be counted.

            That rather depends what position people choose to take on exactly what is being copyrighted.

            If I paint a painting inspired by, and very similar to, the Mona Lisa, I might have shown little invention even if I'd shown good technique, but that's reflected in the fact that while I might have copyright in my picture (no-one has the right to sell unauthorised prints of it), anyone else could paint their version of the Mona Lisa without infringing my rights, as long as they didn't copy novel changes I'd made to a taking-the-piss extent..

            So, I might be standing on the shoulders of all that past culture, but the less novel I'm being, the easier it would be for someone do do something similar to me.

            Also, the less value I'm adding, presumably at least on average, the less people would be likely to value what I've done.

            I wouldn't be 'stealing' from the public domain if I didn't take anything from it preventing someone else using it the way I had done.

            At the very least, there's a kind of natural balancing going on there to some extent.

      2. david wilson

        @Graham Wilson

        I agree that copyright does seem to be excessive in length, maybe particularly in the case of a company-made work involving lots of people, rather than some individual personal creation.

        That said, there is at least a good argument for copyright being longer than patents, since patents can often involve someone finding out something now which would have been entirely found out very soon by other people, even if the first person had fallen under a bus.

        With copyright, particularly where a work is made by only one or two people, if one person hadn't done what they did, the chances of what they would have done being done basically the same by someone else might be pretty minimal.

        1. Graham Wilson
          Thumb Up

          @david wilson - Re: "I agree that copyright does seem to be excessive in length, etc."

          Hardly any disagreement with that. Right, copyrights should last longer than patents for the reason you've stated and others too.

          The basic premise should be fairness and balance. In the internet age where information flows like water finding a level place, one-sided and exclusive laws won't work, thus we must find a better way (but that's not ditching copyright completely--people's efforts can't go unrewarded).

          Most of all, we need to stop copyright abuse by copyright holders. This is an elaborate subject of its own but I'll use one example: museums and galleries etc. that hold public collections rightly protect these collections by not letting the public get too close to them--widespread and continued photographing may cause damage from flash UV etc. So instead the museum does the photography under controlled conditions. However, under current law, the copyright of this is photograph is invested in the museum--not the public who technically own the museum piece. Museums and galleries regularly and consistently abuse this aspect of copyright law by making it difficult to access the photograph, or by overcharging for a copy of it, or denying access to the photograph on the internet.

          Although there are exceptions, US law prohibits copyright by government agencies, thus the Library of Congress (LOC) etc. makes out-of-copyright items available, however this doesn't mostly apply to the rest of the world.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            You assume the museum is public.

            "However, under current law, the copyright of this is photograph is invested in the museum--not the public who technically own the museum piece. "

            That's on the assumption the museum or such is a public institution like the Smithsonian. In this case, the prices may be more a means to defray operating expenses and asking too much from the state, who may start getting leery if expenses keep climbing. The public pays either way. Do you pay with your taxes or do you pay in the gift shop?

            And then what about PRIVATE galleries? They're not subject to the same rules and indeed have to make a living, since they're not backed by the state. So they have the liberty to set their rates. Indeed, not only do they own the copyright on the photos, but they also own the actual pieces being photographed.

            1. Graham Wilson
              Thumb Up

              @Charles 9 Re 'You assume the museum is public'

              I'm mindful that between david wilson and myself that we've overdone this argument here, even though there's much more to say about it.

              I've already covered some of the issue you've raised in my replies to d w, but points you raise are inevitable ones and I'd basically agree with them. Nevertheless, there's the now-significant argument about who actually owns culturally significant artifacts, documents etc. and who has the right to possess and or access them.

              The most high profile of these stoushes/fights is the one between the British Museum and Greece with respect to the ownership of the Elgin Marbles that were supposedly appropriated by nefarious means from the Acropolis in Athens. Others include the many disputes over the return of human remains from museums to ancestors etc.

              What eventuality happens over the ownership debate will probably end up determining what happens with respect to museums and the copyright of objects.

          2. david wilson


            Re: Museums.

            I think this got doe elsewhere recently.

            Even ignoring the flash issues, personally, if visiting a free museum, I'd happily pay not to have people even taking non-flash camera-phone pictures if I was trying to look at a piece properly.

            Additionally, there could be various issues with exhibitions involving loan works, or (in some places) works which were still in copyright.

            Though clearly they make money (income) from selling postcards, etc, even if they didn't, I think many museums would consider photography maybe more trouble than it was worth.

            It would be interesting if it was possible to experiment with various museum websites, and see if having lots of stuff available in decent resolution had a positive or negative effect on visitor numbers.

  23. Tankboy
    Thumb Down


    Those idiots at DARPA dismiss "Joe Snuffy" as being at best incompetent, at worst some country bumpkin that wandered into the recruiting station and managed to spell his first name correctly. I know for fact that the most efficient way to dispose of bad guys is a lot of direct fire, bluntly applied.

    If the assholes at the top grew a pair of balls and started prosecuting the war as it was intended, there would be no need for some "magic bullet".

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The US soldiers better hope that the 'enemy' don't have access to laser pointers - how does the bullet tell the difference between good and bad laser dots....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Look it up.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge


        What if something read the modulation in the beam and then geared their laser emitters to duplicate the modulation?

      2. Steve Evans

        Re: modulation

        Sounds like a perfect defence is to stand behind a mirror. The dot won't be scattered back to the bullet, but reflected onto a nearby wall or the ground.

    2. Gareth 7

      Does your remote open every card door?

      The light is encoded with an electronic signature.

      1. david wilson

        @Gareth 7

        >>"The light is encoded with an electronic signature."

        So I guess that involves some co-ordination, even if automated to the point where a code is automatically read from each round and transmitted to a linked designator to change the signature (or a round is automatically programmed to a particular designator's signature).

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @ Various

    @Evil Auditor

    "Except if the laser designator is synchronised with the gun. If the laser is activated not before the gun is fired or even long (long in terms of bullet speed) after the projectile left the barrel, this wouldn't leave much lead time for not being surprised."

    You might be surprised. At 1 Km a rifle bullet runs about M2 (say 680 ms^-1). You'd be looking at roughly 1 1/3 secs to duck. As the round is supersonic your IR receiver would warn you before you heard the bullet (and if you could hear it then its missed anyway).How far can you move in 1 1/3 secs will depend on how much you want to live.

    @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    "A new battlefield problem

    You missed, private! Did you forget to charge your bullets' batteries overnight, you moron?"

    Mo money, mo problems.

    @is it me?

    "I'd expect the US to allow its citizens to buy these, I should think the NRA are having orgasms”

    I didn't you could justify DARPA's computerised sniper scope in civilian hands either, 'till I heard of "hunters" who set up a salt lick on the opposite side of the valley from their home and wait for Bambi before bagging him from a couple of klicks. More a sort of an armed consumer really. Handy if you're a bit of a wobble bottom. As seen on YouTube.

    So this little beauty will likely end up on the NRA wish list as well. It's *much* simpler hardware should be *lots* cheaper provided you have a rifle of suitable calibre (and if you're in the NRA you probably have several).

    "So the CSIs will have the joy of trying to work out the firing position of a guided bullet”

    Well CSI Miami have coped with both Metalstorm and an Israeli weapon with a small video screen for shooting round corners But I will be interested to see what happens.

    BTW Laser designators use PWM of the laser to make their (infra red) signal stand out from the background. Your laser pointer will be *useless*, wrong color and not pulsing with the right code. It might lure a stray pussy cat into the line of fire however.

    1. annodomini2

      Wideband interference

      As the bullet is fired, you won't know the laser frequency or the coding, but it will probably fall in some frequency range.

      Scattering or Diffusing the reflection.


      Overloading the incoming sensor, wideband IR light source? (Although this may attract more fire! ;))

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Will these bullets be housed in mystic mags? :-)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So who's the master shooter that can aim a frikkin' laser at a target for the 1 second or so it takes the monster bullet to hit from 2km? That's much harder to do than aiming a rifle for the time it takes to press the trigger - unless you do it from a stand, in which case you could as well mount your rifle on that. And don't be coming with target illuminating drones or illuminator squaddies! If you've got those, you've also got a better shot. The whole thing thang thong is a pseudo-solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. Or have you recently made a positive identification of your target at 2km?

    Also, imagine in the heat of battle, a hundred soldiers using a hundred of those bullets - how many will hit the same target? How many go stray in fog and dust? How many... oh fuhgeddaboudit!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Ballistics vs. Light.

      There's a big reason it's a lot easier to aim a laser down range than fire a bullet down that same range. Light is unaffected by wind and only significantly affected by gravity at astronomical distances. You can aim down a simple telescopic sight, see the target, and paint it. That's why lasers are frequently used as boresight tools--to help calibrate rifle scopes.

      OTOH, the big challenge in getting a normal sniper bullet on target is gauging when all the conditions are right. To make sure your gun has the correct elevation, to make sure you accounted for the wind properly (and it's more often than not wind that kills otherwise-true extreme-range shots--the longer you go, the more likely the wind's going to vary).

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: FAIL

      As I understand it, this is meant to address the situations where squads find themselves under fire from heavy weapons at a range the squad's normal weapons (in the US forces, the M4 and SAW) cannot respond. Currently, this happens a lot in Afghanistan with the Taleban using long-range machinegun fire from prepared ambushes positions. Often the grunts have no direct means of response and have to call in air support or artillery fire if they are available. Both can take time to respond, possibly costing lives on the ground, and both can cause serious collateral damage. And trick toys like the XM25 don't have the range to reach such targets. In the case of the British, the answer has been using the Javelin AT missile, which is both expensive and heavy for the PBIs to lug around. Putting snipers in with every patrol is an option but there just aren't enough trained snipers to go round, so using a .50 rifle with an ordinary marksman and a laser designator could fill the gap, giving a near-instant response right out to the same ranges the Taleban's machineguns can fire from.

  28. Andus McCoatover

    Repaint the target?

    Wonder what a simple, cheap laser pointer pen could do? I have one, and it could 'light up' my mate's bedroom wall with a dot in his apartment block 2 - 3 hundred metres away...

  29. Graham Bartlett

    @AC: fail

    I see your point. But the big problem with aiming a sodding great rifle is the sodding-great-ness of it, and hence the extreme skill required to shoot without any kind of tremble in your hands. Laser designators are the size of a camera, mount on a small tripod, and the better ones have all sorts of assists for getting the targetting right. AFAIK they don't currently have ones that can track a target as he walks, but it's almost certainly only a matter of time. So it's going to be easier to do with a separate designator.

    Don't forget about the problem of showing yourself to fire, and if you're firing directly at the target then they can see your muzzle flash. With this beastie, you can stay behind cover, bash a round into the air roughly in the right direction, and your mate with the laser designator can steer it onto the target. Hell, your mate can even be behind cover too and use a detachable control panel to drive the designator.

    And it's worth pointing out that this will tie in perfectly with the XM25 smart rifle, also a smooth-bore weapon. A smart fused payload on a smart targetting shell is likely to be rather useful - think grenade launcher with sniper-rifle accuracy.

    1. Your Retarded

      The M2 *IS* a mounted weapon

      It is far too big and heavy for hand-held use.

      So will people please stop going on about trembling hands?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gareth 7 - You can't be serious. If this thing is for the mass market, a soldier will carry 80 or so of them in a magazine. They will all have to respond to his own painter laser - or the one of the guy who paints for that soldier. Which could be - in theory - one guy painting for ten soldiers, or ten guys painting for one. Or whatever. No way you'll match the bullets individually to a target indicator.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smooth bore...

    This means that once production is realized it can be used - in concept - from a (any?) shot gun.

    Making this a great anti- military round as well....

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      One barrel for bullets, another for the lazor FTW!

    2. David Eddleman

      Or not.

      12ga shotguns have a bore somewhere in the range of .60, rather than .50 (the exact number escapes me at the moment). You can't fire a round smaller than the bore reliably. Best case? You'll destroy the barrel or damage it beyond use. Worst case? You'll break it and injure yourself. Someone doing this deserves what happens to them.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Or not

        Just make the sabot a bit wider...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Graham Bartlett: OK, but still fail

    You're right about a laser pointer being light. But they're still hard to point. I've tried it. About the only thing I know of that's easy to point is a well-balanced hunting rifle so maybe you'd want to model your pointer on that. And carry that around with you... :-(

    The bit about showing yourself is true, but the guy with the pointer still has to show himself. And Private Snuffy won't have a detachable control panel at his disposal, I think. Most of the time anyway. And there's still the little matter about target identification.

    So it might come in handy now and then, but more likely in cases where you'd employ a sniper anyway - firing a first shot in a well-planned attack, like. Not in a battle situation.

    1. Steve Evans


      There is a difference between showing yourself and *showing* yourself. Sure the guy with the pointer will need line of site to the target, but that doesn't necessarily reveal him. There will be no muzzle flash from the pointer, the bullet will come from elsewhere. As soon as they start coming in I doubt any of the targets will give any thought to the unarmed man one of their team thought he saw 5 minutes ago wandering about at 45 degrees to them.

      Many of the "smart" bombs in Iraq were guided in by laser. Sometimes painted from other aircraft, but often painted by forces on the ground.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        *Line of SIGHT

        What you do with your eyes.

        Not where builders work.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In Real life.....that is all we needed.

  34. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  35. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Matching bullets, laser pointers and other stuff.

    The DARPA smart shell project (Judge Dredd gun) reported previously uses both a new shell *and* a new (big) gun with lots of built in electronics to prep the shell.

    This is a *retrofit* to existing weapons in the field. *NO* 2 way comms with the shell. No GPS. No IMU, No temperature and wind speed compensating IR optics.

    And once again for the slow ones in the back. Existing laser designators use *invisible* light which *flickers* in a controlled pattern. For missiles this pattern *may* be adjustable so different groups of missiles look for different patterns. Given an 8 bit pattern could allow 255 designators this is not difficult (although IRL some of those patterns would be *very* poor ones to lock onto).

    For something this size it's likely to be fixed in design inside the bullet.

    And the bullet will be fitted with a filter, making it *blind* to visible light (like the Sun, laser pointers etc).

  36. Mike VandeVelde

    Zorg's ZF-1 with repeat button ftw

    Can't believe nobody mentioned this one:

    What a great movie.

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