The First Self Guided Bullet

Sandia National Laboratories have invented a small caliber self guided bullet. The bullet contains an optical sensor, CPU, battery and electromagnetic actuated fins. It is able to track laser designated targets out to 2,000 meters.

The CPU tracks laser designed targets using the optical sensor in the nose and can make changes to its flight as often as 30 times per second. The below photo shows a nightime field test in which they attached a LED to the base of the bullet.

A LED attached the the base of the bullet shows its path.

Reading in between the lines of the Sandia press release this invention is a long way from actually being able to hit targets at long distances. Computer simulations indicate that the bullet could theoretically get within 8″ of a target at 2,000 meters. Sandia is looking to license the technology to a commercial partner to develop the technology.

[ Many thanks to Dudley & Jake for emailing us the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • My wife was looking at working for them. But since she is Canadian, she wouldnt be able to work on cool stuff like this. Self guided bullets reminds me of the Sci-Fi movie “Fifth Element”

    • Sid

      It’s light. Handle’s adjustable for easy carrying, good for righties and lefties. Breaks down into four parts, undetectable by x-ray, ideal for quick, discreet interventions. A word on firepower. Titanium recharger, three thousand round clip with bursts of three to three hundred, and with the Replay button – another Zorg invention – it’s even easier.

      • Tux

        But what about the big red button?

  • So we can have curved bullets like in Wanted? haha

    • Jason

      Actually, it’s more like the gun in the movie “Runaway” that starred Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons. Gene’s character had a pistol that fired bullets just like these with an optical sensor, and they would explode on impact.

      • MrDakka

        Or like the upgraded combat rifle from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The bullets fired from this gun could curve to some degree to hit targets behind cover, but only to a small degree; nothing stupid like Wanted.

      • Rangefinder

        Regarding “Runaway”, I am more concerned about a spiderbot catching me with my pants down.

    • Other Steve

      Wanted was such a horrible movie.

  • Nick Pacific

    Life was simpler… oh, about five minutes ago.

    • Flounder

      Ah life was soooooooooooooooo much simpler once… Course I doubt they will use this for a few years but THE POTENTIAL!!!!

      Smart bullets… within 8 inches at 2000m… I know it’s theoretical but that equates to 2/5th MOA… Lets all just take a moment and ponder that one…

      2/5th MOA From any rifle… wow… I sense a new caliber coming that uses this bullet. And I also sense it being Military/LEO only…

  • H.L. Fahnestock

    There is certainly potential there for LE/MIL applications as the technology develops. As long as the laser designator is on the target, the projectile can follow as the target moves. What next? Facial recognition software built in?

  • Buster charlie

    Sorry about the double post,

    To finish my thought, if this worked as well as they claim, imagine a normal marksman being able to make that world record shot, you would expand tactical ability without a much training. And unlike a man portable rocket it would carry more ammo and not give away your position. In theory you could take out targets from the air without the risk of collateral damage.

  • Freiheit

    Very cool.

    This is a huge leap ahead, but it doesn’t address the whole problem. How do you keep the laser designator on the target? If you can’t hold a rifle steady to make the shot, how could you hold a telescope and a designator?

    Also if the bullet can see the laser, then so can the enemy.

    • bigbear78

      The lazer is infrared and isn’t visable to the naked eye and lazing a taget at that distance is easy!

    • Bandito762

      I am guessing your spotter would have the designator

    • DaveR

      And even if the target is LOS, there’s much more to making a long range shot than holding the rifle steady. Thins kind of a bullet would eliminate need to estimate wind, angle and range to target…

  • Tekkie

    I wonder what the maximum hold-off distance is? Like how far off target the shot could be and still be successfully corrected mid-flight.

  • Mu

    It’s a gadget in a 7.62, but in something more serious like .50 or 20mm? You only need to expose one guy to maybe 500 m with line of sight to the target, and then a couple bursts from a mile away really upset someone’s day.

    • Jay

      You don’t even have to do that. The spoter launches a small drone with a stabilised camera and a laser designator to paint the targets for the shooter.

      • JMD

        And with the level of automation we’re talking about, by the time this system is ready, the shooter may not even be a human being. The whole thing could probably be controlled remotely by a team in an air conditioned building in Nevada.

        Then if they can build a drone to deliver the rest of the system to the AO…

        Now that’s a technological leap, to be sure.

  • Jason

  • gorn

    I don’t know the price, but for something like 1000 $ per bullet, maybe is more efficiency to spread and pray.

    • Jeff

      The statistic currently is about 1000 rounds fired for every enemy kill. So there is something to be desired. In the least this mitigates politically incorrect colateral damage.

      • If that’s so then it represents a big improvement over previous conflicts. In Vietnam it was more like 100,000 rounds fired for every kill.

    • derekb

      The processing needs on board something like this could easily be addressed with a multitude of different microcontrollers that cost a few bucks a piece. The expensive bit would be the manufacturing, but I still think a two digit production cost isn’t unrealistic. Hobbyists have built guided rockets successfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the immensely talented individuals out there could build a guided bullet.

  • Ajay

    Isn’t this less a bullet, and more a miniature guided missile? Regardless, they will NEVER allow this into public hands, guaranteed this is MIL only.

    • Bandito762

      missile implies that the projectile moves under its own power.

      • Duncan

        Actually “missile” could refer to any projectile, self-propelled or not. Now if the bullet was self-propelled, the term to use would be “rocket.”

  • Ian

    Didn’t I see this on this on the Discovery or History channel like ten years ago?

  • Does they talk like Slim Pickens?

  • Chase

    My mother works for Sandia National Laboratories, and I’ve gotten to see some pretty cool stuff. 🙂

  • It isn’t the only such project – DARPA has been running the EXACTO guided .50 cal bullet project for some time. Teledyne Scientific and Imaging are working on it. See:

  • bigbear78

    Also the weapon system could be set up in one location with a good view and then then you could move and laser targets from another and remote fire

  • SpudGun

    Before I can jump on the ‘kewl neato!’ bandwagon, let’s look at the short comings in the form of the laser designator.

    What happens when rather inexpensive counter measures (like smoke) are deployed by the enemy and how well will it work in less then ideal environmental conditions (fog, heavy rain, etc.)?

    Indirect support weapons don’t rely on line of sight and can be operated behind heavy cover – plus they actually exist.

    Finally, and we’re getting into Looney Tunes territory here, what if I pull out my fiendish handheld mirror and bounce the laser back at the attacker?

    Despite all of these ‘worries’, it does sound amazing and there is no stopping progress. Guess it’s time to trade in my rifle for a laser pointer.

    • Doc

      Good thinking, BUT an infrared laser, say, 940nm can penetrate smoke, fog, rain, and still put the ordinance on target. (AND 940NM is invisable to the human eye)

  • fred

    Sandia National Laboratories has

  • Rangefinder

    If we can designate targets with a UAV and accuracy is not dependent on the shooter, then we can engage targets with a UGV.

  • Liv

    That doesn’t surprise me the least, i have seen some crazy shit from Sandia.

  • Josh B

    I could actually see this combined with a UAV, Imagine the UAV already carries Hell Fire Rockets, so add a gun to the thing and laze the target and you could take out one to one hundred targets with out collateral damage, or with out anybody ever knowing you have been there. Scary Stuff but awesome.

    • Avery

      I always thought a weaponized laser mounted on a UAV might be the ultimate assassination weapon, but you have convinced me otherwise. A laser-guided sniper system mounted on a UAV might be just as scary.

  • somebody

    I wonder how long it will be before some politician starts trying to push a bill to ban civilians from being able to get it.

    • scanner

      The really bad politicians (and the really venal ones) would be wise to ban it outright.

  • Darren

    If you’re just thinking about rifle fire, expand your vision to include mounting a .50 cal or 20mm version of this on a UAV. You’re shooting non-explosive guided projectiles from a height with terminal guidance provided by a laser designator. The military has already gone from Hellfire to Spike and Viper to get the bang level down at the end to reduce casualties, now you can (in theory) accurately fire a cannon or machine gun from height with terminal guidance. Almost assuredly cheaper, and in terms of reducing casualties — well, only one person has the designator on them at a given time. In theory you could watch people get into a car and shoot the target through the roof without even hitting anyone else in the car.

    • bbmg

      If you’re using a UAV, why fire the projectile at all?

      An aerodynamic projectile with high sectional density dropped from high altitude will reach tremendous velocities and therefore kintetic energy. Look up anything from flechettes in WWI to lazy dogs in Vietnam and Korea right up to the CBU-107 passive attack weapon.

      By simply dropping it, you’ve completely bypassed the problem of having the electronics survive the massive acceleration forces from firing it from a gun.

      It would be a (relatively…) low budget version of “Rods from god”…

      • Avery

        Maybe something like an anti-personnel version of CBU-97 Skeet. Have container disperse the guided flechettes then have a laser sensor unit (or a UAV or human-controlled designator) hang back and pick out the human infrared heat signatures and paint them for the flechettes.

      • Darren

        The “micro rods from God” idea was something that occurred to me as well.

        Reasons to fire these include improving off-axis capability and imparting some initial increased momentum, although if fired from high enough the increased momentum will probably drop off to something insignificant after a long flight time. Not only that, but changes in direction would seem to work best with more air moving over the control surfaces, assuming this isn’t a micro-RAP using thrust to change direction. The faster it’s going initially, the easier it would be to change direction later on. It’s not as if it’s flipping out wings.

        The other thing to consider is that those 30 adjustments per second sound pretty awesome until you figure the thing is probably still moving more than 1000fps (supersonic) at terminal impact. That’s one adjustment every 33 feet or so, more if your target is closer. I wonder how it does with the transonic instability that bedevils most every round at some point. If you can get a guided projectile that can overcome transonic instability issues, then you can really, really reach out an touch something with a rifle.

      • Darren

        Also, we’ve been firing electronics out of cannon since World War II and the first generation of proximity fuses. I don’t know the relative g-forces involved comparing a 5in gun to a .50 cal, but it would seem like that particular problem has been solved. This isn’t much more than a scaled-down 1960s-era Shillelagh missile, making electronics smaller hasn’t been a problem what with Moore’s law helping out, and the lighter and more solid-state the electronics, the less the g has to grab onto.

  • so THATS how they curved the bullet in WANTED!!!!!

  • charles222

    Interesting concept; I could see it being absolutely devilish in a Barrett. You’re not really moving around when popping rounds at targets 1800m or more away with one of those anyway, so the issue of the laser moving off-target isn’t an issue.

  • Lexington

    With the possible exception of C-130’s, anything that hits the military eventually becomes available to the civilians … legally or not.

    If even just a few thousand rounds of this hit the streets, it could be a real game-changer.

    This has gotta be one of the worst things a bodyguard could face. Imagine securing – 100% locking down – a zone of several hundred yards around ‘the boss’ only to see a red dot on his forehead followed by a red hole before you could even do an adrenaline dump.

    I’m thinking that this round has great potential for a best selling novel.

  • interesting