The military art of sniping is about to receive its biggest leap forward since the dawn of the scope.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a breakthrough new "smart bullet" capable of changing direction in flight to avoid obstacles, compensate for shifting environmental factors, and moving targets. Called "Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance" (EXACTO), the agency is confident that this advanced ammunition will revolutionize combat for the military's sniper divisions. 

"True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. “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."

In the video demonstration of EXACTO provided by DARPA, several live-fire tests show how the smart bullets accommodate for a moving target by changing altitude and direction in real-time. What's even more impressive in the last part of the test, which features an untrained individual using a sniper rifle for the first time and still managing to hit the moving target. So far, DARPA has been able to achieve accuracy at up to 1.2 miles away from the target. 

DARPA illustration of new EXACTO smart bullet

A DARPA illustration of their new EXACTO smart bullet. (Photo: DARPA)

So how does this all work? DARPA isn't supplying too much information, but from what I've found online, each EXACTO bullet likely has optical sensors on the surface of its nose that gather information while in flight. This data is then relayed to an internal electronics system that adjusts an internal mechanism to change the bullet's direction. Others have suggested there may be fins on the outside to achieve movement (similar to this smart bullet concept created by Sandia National Laboratories in 2012), but the DARPA illustration is devoid of such an addition.  

As one commenter on GizMag shared, however the technology works, it's sure to be a game changer for the military. 

"With normal sniping, the greater the distance, the more impact any tiny error makes but with this, the greater the distance, the more time the bullet has to correct," they write. "It would seem to make sniping both safer for the shooter and more accurate. Better (when circumstances allow) to send one precise shot than to spray a target area with light machine gun fire if you want to minimize civilian deaths."

DARPA says its next step is to modify the EXACTO to allow for guided ammunition across all calibers. You can view the recent live-fire demonstration of the technology below. 

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

DARPA's self-guided bullets can change direction
Agency's first ever "guided small-caliber bullet" promises to revolutionize troop safety, engagement range, and accuracy.