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

    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

    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

        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

      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
      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

    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

      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


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