It sounds almost unbelievable, but scientists at one of the country’s leading technological thinktanks and multiprogram research laboratories have patented a bullet that can literally guide itself to a laser-located target up to a mile away.
And here’s the best part: The individuals principally responsible for the bullet’s creation are avid hunters and shooting enthusiasts. Well, naturally.
Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories researchers Red Jones and Brian Kast say they are pleased with their early results in computer simulations as well as field-testing of prototype 4-inch bullets equipped with optical sensors in the nose that detect a laser beam on a distant target. The sensor sends information to guidance and control electronics that use an algorithm in an 8-bit central processing unit to command electromagnetic actuators, enabling tiny fins to guide the bullet to its intended target.
And you thought the ballistics of different loads for your deer rifle could get technical and confusing.
Jones and Kast said their research team used standard commercial gunpowder in their prototype .50-caliber cartridges, and plastic sabots provided a gas seal to protect the delicate bullet fins. During testing, the bullets were fired from a smoothbore centerfire rifle.
Why a smoothbore? Elementary shooting dynamics, according to Jones. Most shooters know the rifling in standard barrels help customary ammunition achieve optimum performance by causing it to spin. But the guided bullet’s extended length and arrow-like design with a forward-weighted center of gravity eliminates the need for spin.
Using high-speed photography, the researchers found that a bullet pitches radically as it leaves the barrel, and less so as it flies downrange—a phenomenon known to long-range firearms experts as “going to sleep.” Because the bullet’s motions settle the longer it is in flight, accuracy improves at longer ranges, Jones concluded.
“Nobody had ever seen that, but we’ve got high-speed video photography that shows that it’s true,” he said.
Sandia Lab—a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration—is actively seeking a private company partner to complete testing of the prototype and to bring a guided bullet to the marketplace.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever worked on,” said Jones. “I worked with a great bunch of people who are incredibly bright, incredibly motivated, and who solved a great array of problems. It was awesome.”
There are doubtless multiple military applications for a self-guided bullet, but can you picture your son or daughter using this technology for a future elk hunt?