The magic bullet devised by the US military that can change direction

The magic bullet devised by the US military that can change direction
Bending bullets isn’t as far-fetched as The Matrix movies might lead you to believe (Picture: Warner Bros)

For the past six years, the US military has been developing a bullet that can change direction after it has been fired. And now, almost £15m later, they have the proof that it works.

Earlier this month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) – an agency tasked with coming up with the weapons of the future for the US government – released video footage of its magic bullet in action.

The grainy clip shows a live-fire test of a .50-caliber bullet at a target, even though the rifle is aimed at a different point. A line of flight depicts how the bullet changes course to make its way to the target.

The footage might resemble the graphics from a shooting game on the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64, but it could hold the key to revolutionising modern warfare. The basic nature of the video is an indication of just how tight-lipped Darpa is about its technology, and it wouldn’t reveal exactly how the bullet was guided while in flight. The test was part of the agency’s EXACTO (Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance) project.

‘This video shows EXACTO rounds manoeuvring in flight to hit targets that are offset from where the sniper rifle is aimed,’ said Darpa.

‘EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that could impede successful hits.

‘For military snipers, acquiring moving targets in unfavourable conditions, such as high winds and dusty terrain commonly found in Afghanistan, is extremely challenging with current technology. It is critical that snipers be able to engage targets faster, and with better accuracy, since any shot that doesn’t hit a target also risks the safety of troops by indicating their presence and potentially exposing their location.’

The theory behind the technology is simple: a guidance system is used to send signals to the bullet while it is in flight, altering its course. Apart from that, little is known about exactly how EXACTO works.

A depiction of the EXACTO bullet, which can be controlled after it has been fired (Picture: DARPA)

It isn’t the first project of its kind – in 2012, another US government agency, Sandia National Laboratories, developed a prototype guided bullet with a built-in sensor and adjustable fins. However, its targeting was based on a laser beam, throwing up potential problems in foggy weather.

An artist’s impression of the EXACTO bullet released by Darpa shows no signs of fins or any other steering mechanism on its exterior, meaning any changes in trajectory could be chiefly influenced by what’s on the inside.

‘From the artist’s impression of the Darpa bullet, the course correction ability is either related to the rings shown or there could be a mass inside the bullet that can change position, thus causing the spinning bullet to change course,’ said Dr James Shackel, a lecturer in forensic science at Cranfield University, specialising in small arms and ammunition.

‘The utilisation of an optical guidance system, which I can only assume is IR [infrared] based, means that it will not have the same issues that can be associated with laser-based systems, such as blocking or sensitivity to climatic conditions, such as fog and cloud.’

But just because a bullet can have a mind of its own doesn’t mean human expertise will be surplus to requirements.

‘Once fired you would be totally reliant on the technology working to ensure the target is hit,’ said Dr Shackel. ‘As such, I’m not sure that this technology would remove the need for skilled operators in the same way that some other types of guided munitions systems are.’

As with all forms of military advancement, there is the concern that it could be replicated or procured by terrorists. ‘There is the possibility that this type of technology could get into the wrong hands in future,’ said Dr Shackel.

‘During conflicts, weapons and ammunition can be captured and utilised. This also leads to the possibility of reverse engineering. Although the US has now advertised their development of this technology, this doesn’t mean that other nations around the world are not working on similar things, which could lead to a wider proliferation of these types of ammunition, but that may be some way off.’

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28 July 2014 | 5:00 am – Source:

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