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Going Backwards: Self-Guided Bullets Unveiled

'Securing a Peaceful and Free World Through Technology.' Not.

Common Dreams staff

Night Testing With a Tracer Round - A new self-guided bullet can alter its own trajectory in flight, navigating its way to a laser-painted target.

The U.S. military has been after self-guided bullets for years.

Now Sandia National Labs has announced today that their engineers have invented a dart-like, self-guided bullet for small-caliber, smooth-bore firearms that could hit laser-designated targets at distances of more than a mile. 

Sandia National Laboratories, which claims to be "Securing a Peaceful and Free World Through Technology," is operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Lockheed’s been a longtime partner in the military’s quest for the ultimate self-guided bullet. In 2008, they scored a $14.5 million contract as part of the US DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) “Exacto” (Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance) program, which sought to develop sniper rifles with guided bullets.

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Popular Science reports:

Their dart-like rifle round is designed for small-caliber firearms like those carried by the average grunt or law enforcement officer. [...]

Their bullet works much like a precision guided aerial bomb might function. An optical sensor in the nose of the bullet detects a laser beam painted on a target and sends that information to a guidance and control system also packed on board. An eight-bit CPU commands electromagnetic actuators to adjust tiny fins that deploy from the round immediately after it exits the muzzle. From there, the on-board electronics aerodynamically guide the bullet home to its target, allowing the shooter to adjust a round’s trajectory in flight to correct on a long shot or to stay with a moving target.

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From the Sandia National Labs news release:

“We have a very promising technology to guide small projectiles that could be fully developed inexpensively and rapidly”[...]

Potential customers for the bullet include the military, law enforcement and recreational shooters, Sandia says.Most bullets shot from rifles, which have grooves, or rifling, that cause them to spin so they fly straight, like a long football pass. To enable a bullet to turn in flight toward a target and to simplify the design, the spin had to go, Jones said.

The bullet flies straight due to its aerodynamically stable design, which consists of a center of gravity that sits forward in the projectile and tiny fins that enable it to fly without spin, just as a dart does, he said.

Computer aerodynamic modeling shows the design would result in dramatic improvements in accuracy, Jones said. Computer simulations showed an unguided bullet under real-world conditions could miss a target more than a half mile away (1,000 meters away) by 9.8 yards (9 meters), but a guided bullet would get within 8 inches (0.2 meters), according to the patent.

Plastic sabots provide a gas seal in the cartridge and protect the delicate fins until they drop off after the bullet emerges from the firearm’s barrel.

Potential customers for the bullet include the military, law enforcement and recreational shooters.

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