New Technology For U.S. Military Snipers
Are you serious? A bullet that can change direction after being fired?
With DARPA, this is certainly not impossible to achieve.
Currently being developed under the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program by California-based Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC with funding from DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a new and special type of bullet. One that can change direction in midair after being fired, and one that could make the American military snipers deadlier than ever.
Optical Sighting Technology
The new and specially-designed ammunition .50 caliber bullets’ (EXACTO 50) round and optical sighting technology is expected to greatly extend the time range of the current state-of-the-art sniper systems. Teledyne has successfully developed an ammunition system that combines bullets that can be maneuvered and a real-time guidance system that would track and deliver the projectile desired for a target. That combination allows the bullet to change direction after it has been fired to compensate for any unforeseen and unexpected factors that may cause it to go off course.
Revolutionizing Rifle Accuracy And Lethality
According to DARPA officials, the EXACTO program is aimed at revolutionizing rifle accuracy and enhancing the lethality of U.S. military snipers. And a small-caliber guided bullet is how DARPA envisions that. Exactly how it’s done remains unknown and held tightly in secrecy. But one thing is sure – it’s happening soon.
Successful Testing Completed
A statement recently released by DARPA announced that the project had a successful testing which is historically, a first. In the same announcement, a video was shown with two rounds of testing done in February and April where a bullet was intentionally aimed at and fired off target both times, then changed direction. The second test showed what appears to be the bullet hitting the intended target.
Two-Man Sniper Teams
Under normal operational circumstances, snipers are usually a two-man team with one as the shooter and the other as the spotter. Both have to make adjustments based on a number of factors once they are in position. Like a radio man talking on his H350 handset to report ground situations on the battleground to request assistance from home base, the spotter assists the shooter in identifying and locking in on the targets while providing security for both him and the shooter at the same time.
Snipers In Challenging Situations
DARPA cites an example when sniper teams in places like Afghanistan have to deal with dusty terrain and high winds which are extremely challenging. And in situations like these it’s critical for snipers to engage targets not just faster but with utmost accuracy. Safety in such challenging situations is increased if the snipers’ location is concealed longer. A bullet that changes direction midair may just do that. Hence, DARPA is eager to give EXACTO to the snipers soon.
Phase 2 of EXACTO Prorgam
The EXACTO program has completed Phase 2 which included the integration, design and demonstration of:
- Power sources
- Optical guidance systems
- Aero-actuation controls
Phase III would include a system-level live-fire testing and refinement of technology to improve and enhance performance.
A Laudable Effort And Promising Breakthrough
The EXACTO program in general is lauded by weapons experts and considers it a promising breakthrough. However, they also have some apprehensions as to the overall and ultimate success of the program.
Challenges And Restrictions
According to Ted Gatchel, a Naval War College professor emeritus, and expert in amphibious warfare, small arms and fortifications, guided artillery and bombs are already permanent fixtures in modern military, being the most lethally effective way to defeat opponents. On the EXACTO’s program on guided bullets, Gatchel fears that the amount of gear carried by sniper teams currently may restrict them from adding additional load. Then there are also potential issues on getting off a quick second shot. The added technology may have an impact on the speed of taking the second shot.
A sniper team would usually have the spotter counseling the shooter on specific adjustments based on the results of the first shot – where it hit. If the first shot had been successful, they then move on to the secondary target which will require them to take an almost immediate second shot.
In addition, Gatchel said, snipers will have to be retrained so that their reflexes adapt to the high-velocity ammunition rounds. As sniping is a precise art, snipers need to have that ability to perfect that art. DARPA should also take into consideration, moving forward the ability of the enemy to develop countermeasures to the guided bullet. While it may take the enemy a while longer to figure that out, DARPA should be prepared to compensate for that possibility. And for that alone, Gatchel said there is good reason to keep the program under tight security and highly classified.
When all these challenges are addressed and overcome, will the US military snipers be better off with the new technology on guided bullets?