DARPA Develops EXACTO, a Smart Bullet Technology for Enhanced Accuracy


Screenshot of the official DARPA website (

The US Military is doubtlessly a prolific source of useful technologies. One good example of these useful technologies is the US Navy’s development of the technology to make use of seawater as fuel. The tech developments don’t appear to be stopping as the world’s strongest military force recently revealed their smart bullets, self-guided bullets designed to adapt to environmental factors that affect shooting accuracy such as winds and dust.

EXACTO – Hitting Exact Targets

Through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) system was developed. It is a projectile system designed to adapt to unfavorable conditions that cause bullets to miss targets. As the name suggests, it aims to enable extreme accuracy for bullets especially in challenging terrains and environments. The EXACTO team of developers have demonstrated .50-caliber bullets that can act like mini homing missiles. There’s a video on YouTube demonstrating the kind of precision EXACTO bullets can offer.

Designed for Snipers

The EXACTO program page on DARPA’s official website mentions that this smart bullet technology is designed for improving sniper effectiveness on the ground, particularly in areas like Afghanistan where winds and dust usually interfere in the accuracy of sniper shots. The aim is “to improve sniper effectiveness and enhance troop safety by allowing greater shooter standoff range and reduction in target engagement timelines.” It seeks to bring about a new wave of dramatic advancement in rifle accuracy and range. EXACTO bullets are designed to help snipers in hitting moving targets in areas with visibility difficulties.

EXACTO projectile

Cropped screenshot of the official DARPA-EXACTO page (

The sniper weapon technology in current use is by no means deficient and ineffective but the introduction of the EXACTO system is bound to revolutionize the technology available to snipers. This is the first ever guided small caliber bullet technology developed. For those unfamiliar with bullet sizes, a .50 caliber is around half an inch long or 13 millimeters. It is the size of bullet used in an M2 Browning machine gun, long rifles, and other heavy machine guns. The half-an-inch length only refers to the bullet and does not include the cartridge length, which is usually nearly twice as long.

How Does It Work

The EXACTO system is a combination of a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance mechanism that can monitor and deliver the projectile (the bullet) to the target. This system enables the bullet to change its path as it travels to the target. It compensates for factors such as wind that prevent the bullet from hitting the target. This expectedly means an expensive bullet since it is equipped with aero-actuation controls, a power source, optical guidance system, and sensors. DARPA has not released detailed specifications of the bullet. There is no information on aspects such as the type of power source used, the mechanisms employed to maneuver the bullet mid-air, and the sensors embedded on the bullet, and the costs. Well, withholding such details isn’t really surprising but we are certainly intrigued by how they managed to infuse maneuverability in a tiny supersonic object such a bullet.

EXACTO smart bullet demonstration

Screenshot of the YouTube video of the EXACTO bullet demonstration

Similar Technologies

The EXACTO bullet of DARPA is not the only guided bullet that has been developed. However, DARPA’s claim that it is the first 0.50 small caliber smart bullet technology holds true since other similar technologies are considerably bigger. The one from Sandia Labs, for instance, is a four-inch long bullet that also comes with an optical sensor in the nose to detect and follow a laser beam aimed at a target.

The EXACTO system is expected to dramatically extend the day and night range cover of sniper rifles. It will make snipers more effective in the ground as they can position themselves farther from their targets without losing accuracy. We are not trying to promote war here but we would just like to highlight how fast technology is advancing. Imagine bullets that move at supersonic speeds, virtually invisible to the naked eye, now capable of homing or locking on a target. This is indeed impressive and could find some use in other purposes that don’t involve war or killing. We just hope it does not fall to the wrong hands, that terrorists don’t get a hold of this technology they would certainly want to use for assassinations.