This just in from the Department of Redundancy Department (Passive Construction Division): “Self-steering bullets that can steer themselves towards a moving target have been tested by the US Department of Defense.” Actually, it’s probably accurate; I’d bet dollars to donuts that the self-steering bullets in question were proceeded by self-steering bullets that couldn’t steer themselves, this being a government program and all. In fact, after Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars Missile Defense System was exposed as an enormous, elaborate, effective hoax, anyone with self-steering logic will be wondering if this new bullet is a bit of a military McGuffin. Anyway, here’s what has to say about the able ammo . . .

The bullet was developed by America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to “increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots”.

It has now been revealed a series of tests in February were successful, with even novices that were using the system for the first time able to hit moving targets.

The project, which is known as Exacto, is thought to use small fins that shoot out of the bullet and re-direct its path, but the US has not disclosed how it works.

It only says that the programme has “developed new approaches and advanced capabilities to improve the range and accuracy of sniper systems beyond the current state of the art”.

The bullet features a real-time optical guidance system to direct it to its target by compensating for “weather, wind, target movement and other factors” that could prevent successful hits.

That should allow snipers to become much more accurate . . .

“This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds.

“Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

Why do I get the feeling they’re not telling me something important? Like, I dunno, the $50m electronic real-time GPS or wired-guidance system supporting/controlling the bullet? Watch this space.

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66 Responses to US Military EXACTO Promises “Self-steering” Bullets

  1. Robert, you got it wrong on Star Wars. The tech for the Patriot and SM2 systems grew out of that program. The laser stuff is just now coming to fruition.

      • No it wasn’t. The concept was just way ahead of its time. And it’s proper name was the Strategic Defense Initiative.

        • So prtending a program is possible when plain facts say otherwise is not fraud, just ahead of its time?

          Jules Verne didn’t write fiction, he was just ahead of his time.

          Hari Seldon, here we come!

        • “So prtending a program is possible when plain facts say otherwise is not fraud, just ahead of its time?”

          And those ‘plain facts’ are, Felix? Smart Rocks use Newtonian physics (proven tech since the 1700’s) with new-fangled terminal guidence (ask anyone shot down by a missile how well that works).

          One ‘plain fact’ is that the current Aegis based ABM system currently deployed has a hit rate of about 50%.

          That’s per shot.

          We have a whole lot more than one of them.

      • Felix you are right that there was a big PR component of SDI, but there was a massive R&D effort that was substantive. I have a very close family member who worked on the kinetic energy kill vehicle component of the program. That’s not the laser stuff, it’s the anti-ballistic missile system that either intercepts directly the warhead (think of shooting a bullet with another bullet, these use a metal net that unfolds at the last second to increase the hit probability) or gets close and kills it with conventional explosive (think Patriot missile). That stuff ended up in operational systems and is, indeed, parked between you and North Korea right now watching for stuff coming over the horizon.

        This is all to say nothing of the big laser stuff that was widely ridiculed by lefties (cause Reagan was dumb?), by Carl Sagan (because he thought it would upset the parity with the Russians) and I guess young Robert Farago (maybe the libertarian anti-military-industrial-complex thing?). That stuff is coming to fruition, too. I think Robert’s a reasonable guy so he’ll read this and change his mind. You should, too.

        • I see. Since anything is possible with time, it was ok for Reagan to triple the national debt in service of something that hasn’t come to fruition 30 years later.

          I think I may as well go register Democrat, it’s so obvious. After all, they were in favor of slavery before they weren’t, and now government runs so much that we will soon all be slaves to the government, if we aren’t already. The Democrats were just ahead of their time.

        • SDI didn’t triple the national debt, the combination of bringing down the inflation, the recession, cutting taxes, and increasing the defense budget did so. The defense budget increase was very necessary in order to rebuild the nation’s defenses because of the state that they were in by the end of the 1970s.

          And so what if it would take three decades to make missile defense somewhat viable? At the time it was began, nobody knew that the Soviet Union would soon collapse. For all anyone knew, the Soviet Union was going to be permanent. It was like the equivalent of saying that within a decade, China will be a liberal democracy. Nobody knew, so you prepare for the long-term with your opponent.

        • Reagan tripled the national debt. Spin it any way you want, break it into as many budgets as you want, but not even LBJ and Nixon, with both guns and butter, did that.

        • Johnson and Nixon didn’t have the economic problem that Reagan initially had. Sure, the debt tripled under him, but it was worth it defense-wise. And Johnson didn’t do both guns and butter, he sacrificed guns for butter. That is why there was a draft, because Johnson wanted to pay for the war on the cheap in order to finance his Great Society boondoggle.

  2. I should point out that Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense system was the most effective weapon system of the Cold War, even if it was a hoax. It and the GLCM program pushed the USSR into bankrupting itself and forced them to sign the INF treaty. With that being said, I do not think Obama’s regime is competent enough to repeat that same kind of ingenuity.

    • Bob – Exactamundo! The best wasted defense dollars of all time and monumentally genius. Ronny boy was a master foreign policy tactician.

        • While I would generally agree, Regan wasn’t as sympathetic to gun owners as we would like to believe: he also signed FOPA which killed the mg registry.

        • Stu refers to Reagan signing FOPA which “killed the machine gun registry.” But FOPA (1986) was intended to do a lot of good for US gun owners, including allowing ammunition by mail and providing for save passage of gun owners through other states and so on. The machine-gun bit was added by Democrats at the last minute, and seemed relatively small compared to the larger good being done. And this was in a Democrat-controlled Congress; Reagan did not have free rein as Obama does now (oddly enough).

          My (now deceased) business partner wrote the modern textbook on radar systems, and was hip deep in the Strategic Defense Initiative. That series of “black projects” was quite real, with tangible results beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union. For example, Peter Swerling’s work also became the core of the Patriot missile defense system from which Iron Dome is derived.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        • “My (now deceased) business partner wrote the modern textbook on radar systems, and was hip deep in the Strategic Defense Initiative. That series of “black projects” was quite real, with tangible results beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union.”


          Is it safe to say that those Reagan ‘black projects’ lead to the very real Aegis missile defense system that is now the core of the ICBM interceptor batteries currently installed at Hawaii, Alaska, and Vandenberg AFB?

        • It is very probable, though I necessarily don’t have the details of those classified projects. Bur some parts were made known, and specifically real-time high-resolution radar guidance was his specialty, after being a key figure in making radar practical since WWII. He and Arthur Clarke were both involved in this, and there was even a superficial resemblance. I was proud to call him a friend and partner.

          He was brought in and his techniques were applied to the first version of the Patriot missile system (which had a relatively poor hit ratio during the first Gulf War) and led directly to the much improved second version of that system.

          Hah! I had not looked at Wikipedia’s entry for him: “Peter Swerling (4 March 1929 – 25 August 2000) was one of the most influential radar theoreticians in the second half of the 20th century. He is best known for the class of statistically “fluctuating target” scattering models he developed at the RAND Corporation in the early 1950s to characterize the performance of pulsed radar systems, referred to as Swerling Targets I, II, III, and IV in the literature of radar. Swerling also contributed to the optimal estimation of orbits of satellites and trajectories of missiles, anticipating the development of the Kalman filter.”

          Yes indeed, that has Aegis written all over it, does it not?

          Reagan was inspired about the Strategic Defense Initiative by a briefing he had at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in the mid-1960s, then another in 1976, before assembling a team as president to explore this. It was doable, and a great deal of technology advance came from it.

          Moreover, Reagan was able to use SDI to out-play and out-maneuver Gorbachev. At one point in the START negotiations (which Reagan had already used to bring about the first reduction in nuclear weapons in history), Gorbachev demanded that the SDI be thrown in as part of the new reductions. Reagan said no, then simply walked away from the table. He was castigated in the media, but won the Cold War as a result; Gorby was bluffing and could not afford to continue the arms race. Both sides knew it.

          We had Iran in a similar position 18 months ago because of the sanctions, and forced them to the negotiating table. But then Obama gave them $10 billion last year, relaxed the sanctions, and is giving them $11 billion this year to try to buy a deal at any cost. Iran had their best economic increases ever in 2014 thanks to Obama, so they no longer need to do any deal at all.

          Obama is no Reagan.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • What it really showed is the usual political bankruptcy.

      If Reagan and his ilk had actually believed that communsim was inept and incompetent and could not work, they would have unleashed true free markets, following one of the few things Jimmy Carter got right (airline deregulation), and let loose the dogs of a free economy, to show what communism could not do.

      But Reagan didn’t believe what he spouted, he actually thought communism could work, in some bizarre fashion, so he outspent it. Tripled the national debt for no good reason, the first president since WW II ended to do so.

      Anyone who takes any politician’s mouthings for gospel is gullible beyond belief.

      • Reagan very much, to great derision at the time, believed that communism was ultimately doomed to fail. And he greatly freed up the economy from how it had been at the time. There was only so much he could do, due to Congress. For example, he wanted to get rid of the Department of Education, but that wasn’t doable. It’s amazing he got done what he did in terms of tax cuts and deregulation. In terms of the national debt, there was the issue of the inflation coming down due to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to kill it which automatically blew up the deficit, there was the reduction in tax revenues due to the resulting recession from said inflation killing, there was the initial reduction in revenues due to the tax cuts, and then there was the increased defense spending, which was not a waste at all, but a very sound investment in the military, which was in a decrepit state at the time since the Vietnam War.

      • Also, the much freer economy of the U.S. had been out-showing communism for decades, the problem was that until the Soviet Union actually broke apart, most of the West had no idea of just how much of a sheer failure communism really was. Reagan also understood that to break the communist system, it needed some real pressure put onto it.

        • Something that the Leftists just have to love is that, to this day, there are Russian citizens that actually wish for ‘the good old days’ of before when the corruption was handled by the State, instead of the current State-private system.

      • Both of you might as well admit what I said: if Reagan had actually believed communism was an incompetent and counter-productive philosophy, he would have gone as much out of his way to boost free markets as he did to boost Star Wars and kosher cakes for the Ayatollah. Congress be damned — he could have streamlined all sorts of procedures, vetoed all sorts of spending, and used his bully pulpit more along the lines of “Tear down this wall, Mr Gorbachev” than he did.

        Reagan was as bad a politician as any other. He trampled on gun rights, he lied his ass off, and worshipping him is as embarrasing as worshipping any politician.

        • On gun rights, I agree that he wasn’t good, but I think that if he had had his faulty views on that explained to him, that he would have corrected them. He did not lie, and on other things, he was one heck of a lot better than what we could have had. It is impossible to govern to the level that you would have wanted him to. Like I said, he wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, but that wasn’t doable. You have to keep in mind that he had to work with a lot of skeptical Democrats at the time. And much of the free market was unleashed under him.

        • The free market is voluntary. Communism is not. If people had a choice, offering them a better choice is all it would take, which is what you are suggesting.

          Nevertheless, Reagan did a lot to support and expand the free market, while working against communism in ways that were very effective — including what was called his “Holy Alliance” with the Pope in support of Poland’s ultimately successful struggle to exit from communist rule.

          Reagan’s record on guns is much better than those who focus on machine guns only seem to think. And all of this he accomplished against the headwind of a Democrat-controlled Congress.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      • A few points:

        • “Tripling the national debt” sounds huge, but this was only true because the debt was small at the time he came in. He did not quite triple the roughly $1 trillion starting number, adding less than two trillion, total, over eight years. And in so doing, won the largest global conflict going, one in which the US was being directly threatened by another superpower. That’s worth something, I think.

        • While he did spend money rebuilding the gutted military (and intelligence!) areas, and on SDI, a big part of the deficit came from the Democrats in Congress reneging on their commitment to cut $2 in spending for every $1 proposed. They could not bring themselves to cut spending.

        • He came in to a collapsed economy, gigantic inflation, and a depressed national view of the world. He fixed all of that, and launched an economic boom that was felt for more than two decades.

        • And some of his reforms finally did get implemented, such as his welfare reform five years after he left office. This reform, finally pushed through by a Republican Congress, helped produce the first budget surpluses in decades.

        • Finally, both sides considered Reagan to mean what he said. Even his enemies considered him a straight shooter, and history has borne this out as a correct perception. Compare to current events.

    • Are you sure it wasn’t communism that bankrupted the USSR? That seems much more likely than just excessive military spending.

      • It was a combination of things: Excessive military spending by the USSR, Gorbachev’s programs intent on trying to open up the Soviet Union, resistance movements in Eastern Europe such as Solidarity, acts of economic warfare and sabotage done by the U.S. against the Soviets, etc…on Gorbachev’s seeking to open up the Soviet Union, this was a result of Reagan’s strong policy towards the Soviets, as the Politburo realized that the old hard liner method wasn’t going to work with Reagan. I believe that Gorbachev said in his autobiography that Reagan spend the Soviet Union out of existence. Reagan’s believed that communism could fail, but that it was a weak system that had managed to hold on for many years because the West never really gave it the hard pressure needed to break it.

    • The Strategic Defense Initiative was not a hoax. It just wasn’t anywhere passed the drawing board at the time. Nor was it very expensive when you look at how much has been spent on it. It is a technology that is finally achieving real world practicality with the example of the Iron Dome defense of the Israelis and one that will become much more viable as computer and electronics technology become more developed. In the 1980s, the idea of being able to watch television on a little cell phone was thought to be fantasy as well. So were bipedal robots. SDI was ahead of its time as a concept, but it was right to start work on it at the time.

      • “In the 1980s, the idea of being able to watch television on a little cell phone was thought to be fantasy as well.”

        Casio was selling pocket LCD TVs in the 1980’s.

        ” in
        May 1985 the Casio TV-1000 was launched in Japan, this was the first pocket TV with a Color LCD. The
        TV-400 was introduced in 1987 and this sample was purchased in 1989. See invoice above – price £89.95.”

  3. As a defense contractor systems engineer this certainly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. The obvious issue is miniaturization. If I were tasked to solve the issue, I would use a non visible laser illuminator at the firing point and put a sensor in the tip of the bullet. However, then we must address the projectile rotation during flight. Since controlling surfaces must be actuated for vertical and horizontal tracking, the bullet rotation becomes a bit of a computing problem. Not actually from a feasibility standpoint, but again from a miniaturization perspective. Putting that level of computation and sensors into a 0.5″ diameter projectile is serious tech. If this claim is true, you can bet major tax dollars were spent on it.

    • The trick isn’t just making it small enough, but making it small enough and able to withstand tremendous acceleration…

    • Basic laws of aerodynamics takes this out of the realm of a mere projectile. Its more a miniature rocket or missile, its propelling itself.

      It’s not possible to “turn” an object that is rotating at supersonic speeds. They cant even do that in space, in zero gravity, with thrusters.

      • Mack – Basic laws of aerodynamics takes this out of the realm of a mere projectile. Its more a miniature rocket or missile, its propelling itself.
        I do not agree. Since the term used is bullet, that eliminates the projectile category. Once the bullet leaves the barrel it is purely ballistic. Basic laws of aerodynamics? The “coaxing” or minute changes required at the beginning of flight are relatively easy. But as the bullet approaches the target the changes required to keep up with target movement would require exponentially increasing effort and hence the inertial forces would become untenable.

        It’s not possible to “turn” an object that is rotating at supersonic speeds. They cant even do that in space, in zero gravity, with thrusters.
        I do not understand. The bullet is not rotating at supersonic speeds. It is traveling in a ballistic path, initially at supersonic speed, and hence there will be an envelop void around the bullet. However, the envelope has negative pressure and therefor can be manipulated to affect flight path. Certainly there are some deep challenges, but again, not completely out of the realm of possibility.

        • In order to turn something it needs directional control. At minimum this would need a vertical set of fins (rudder) and a horizontal set of fins (ailerons).

          If the projectile was rotating, the directional force would need to change every quarter rotation, Rudder becomes aileron, becomes opposite rudder becomes opposite aileron. I’m not aware of anything mechanical that could make those types of directional inputs that fast while rotating.

          So this would appear to be more guided since its changing direction and elevation in flight as it nears its target. That means the directional control are based on aerodynamics (lift, drag, thrust and gravity) and cant be based on ballistics, (Gravity, drag, windage and elevation)

          It has to be stable(non rotational) and self propelled for it to be able to do what it is doing. Which means its more guided missile than bullet, rocket or ballistic missile.

    • Rotation in flight shouldn’t be a problem, just remove the rifling then it becomes a fat sabot shell.
      Orientation in the magazine would be the problem but could be calibrated within 100yards of the barrel.

    • Bullet doesn’t need to rotate in flight. Put fins on it for stabilization.

      I see this thing as basically a really tiny laser-guided bomb. Aim laser at target, sensor in nose of bullet guides on laser spot, little fins for direction and stabilization. BINGO!

    • ” However, then we must address the projectile rotation during flight.”

      That’s what the steerable control surfaces are for. They provide stability and steering.

      Complexity goes *way* up if it’s self-steering.

      It may be ‘flown-in’ from the point of launch.

  4. Hey Robert,
    My fiancé and I both live in Springfield, MO but we will be in stl in June before we get married. I’m going to buy a few hundred rounds of Sig Elite Preformance ammo. Let’s meet up at one of the gun ranges maybe you can give us some shooting tips.

  5. “Oh no ze Americanz haz invented zis new technolgy, we must spend a bunch of money of our smaller millitary budget to try to make one too”

    U mad?

  6. So target should move toward or parallel to the shooter if it doesn’t want to be hit? Call me skeptical but in the video the sniper never moves and the target always starts in the same position and follows the same path. I need to see more than that to believe it can work in real world situations.

    • I don’t know that anyone is claiming that the technology is fully mature. Rather, this testing is just a proof of concept to gain approval to further develop the technology. Once it works consistently in a highly-controlled test, then they’ll move on to introducing more variables.

    • Only expert police and military members should have access to these crazy bullets that make it so you never miss what you’re aiming at…

  7. So I am guessing that the bullet isn’t spinning at 270,000 or so RPM like most rifle cartridges and is just a smooth-bore, miniature howitzer.

    • From what I understand, it is only the bullet and the guidance systems which are specially designed, not the firearm. It’s supposed to be usable from a standard rifle of the correct caliber.

  8. This is not that difficult to do – the problem is being able to size it down for handheld use (if possible) and keep the cost down. For artillery, there is no really why a shell cannot do what smart bombs have been doing for decades now.

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