First off, it’s classified, and we don’t know if it is in use with American forces, covert or otherwise, in some part of the world.
Secondly, experts say this technology could very well revolutionize the job of military sniper.
Lastly, imagine a bullet as a self-guided weapon, able to make course corrections in mid-flight.
It sounds a bit crazy, but apparently this is a pet project of those mad scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Renowned for funding weird and wonderful military technologies, DARPA actually claims that EXACTO, or Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance bullets, turns .50 caliber bullets into guided rounds capable of zeroing in on a target, Kyle Mizokami of The National Interest reported.
Although DARPA is mum on how it does this, other sites report that the technology involves optical sensors in the nose of the bullet and fins capable of adjusting the bullet’s flight path in the tail.
The optical sensor apparently homes in on a spot illuminated by a laser designator, the report said.
The guidance system is similar to laser-guided weapons such as the Maverick and Hellfire laser-guided missiles. The bullet is even capable of making some remarkably sharp course corrections.
Normally, military snipers rely on specialized training, accurized, high power rifles and quality optics to reliably hit targets that are often mere specks on the horizon.
DARPA claims that the system is so easy to use that during testing, “a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target,” the report said.
Developed by California-based Teledyne Technologies, EXACTO technology also has the edge over ballistic computer technology.
While ballistic computers can turn ordinary weapons into precision guided ones, once the bullet is fired the computer can no longer assist the shot.
If the target moves during the bullet’s relatively brief — but not insignificant flight time — the shot misses.
EXACTO, on the other hand, continues to guide the bullet toward the target, to the point where it is capable of engaging a moving target, the report said.
DARPA claims that snipers can now engage targets more quickly and with greater accuracy at longer ranges.
The technology is unaffected by sudden environmental changes, such as a sudden gust of wind. A guided bullet capable of hitting moving targets could also be very useful against drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Exact specifications are classified — range, maximum crosswinds and how slow a target must be moving.
However, DARPA did reveal that it’s looking for a bullet that has the same energy and momentum as current M33 .50-caliber rounds at all ranges greater than 300 meters.
It would also prefer the EXACTO system weigh no more than 46 pounds, or the same as the current M107 sniper rifle with a scope and tripod.
EXACTO’s power supply should last for a 14-hour mission, and should be compatible with existing sniper rifles such as the M82A1 and M107.
It also wanted a “secure and tamper-proof design to prevent misuse and exploitation of any portion of the system if obtained by an adversary.”
But, as always, there are downsides.
If EXACTO does use a laser designator to mark a target that laser is visible under the right circumstances, alerting those being targeted.
Even worse, the laser beam will point directly to the the person lasing the target. The system will also need a long-lasting power supply, as a sniper may need to wait for hours for the opportunity to take a shot.
The hardest part of creating a deployable weapon system may be the cost: DARPA wanted a weapon inexpensive enough to actually deploy with the troops.
Strangely enough, DARPA has gone quiet on EXACTO and has not released any further details since making it public.
Is it in use? Possibly.
Experts speculate it may have entered classified service with some arm of the Pentagon, possibly US Special Operations Command.
It also could have ended up on the DARPA scrapheap — yet another project that proved impractical after millions in spending.
Sources: National Interest, War Is Boring, DARPA