The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced plans to develop smart bullets for the United States Navy.
Last year, DARPA gave Lockheed and Raytheon $25 million for use towards the development of MAD-FIRES — an acronym for “Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System.” Basically, this high-tech munition is intended to defend the Navy’s ships from small attack. Officials close to the project say each round has the capability of altering its flight path accordingly, allowing for greater accuracy. More specifically, MAD-FIRES track targets in real-time, making adjustments to their flight path so they hit the target.
It may sound like something straight out of a science-fiction movie, but smart bullets are close to becoming a reality. DARPA has already given Raytheon a contract consisting of an extra $8 million to enter the second phase of development. Among other things, this stage of development will include risk reduction demonstrations and design work. The contract expires after 2018.
So, what’s the end goal of MAD-FIRES? As explained by DARPA, MAD-FIRES is intended to develop smart bullets for medium-caliber projectiles that would offer benefits such as precision guidance and increased accuracy.
Some people assume that MAD-FIRES is the first smart bullet, but this isn’t necessarily true. DARPA has been experimenting with smart bullets for several years now. Previously, the organization developed a smart bullet for the .50 caliber. Known as the EXACTO program (Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance), this special smart bullet was capable of tracking moving targets. EXACTO was designed based on the use of photodiode, which officials say works like a small fin on the tip of the bullet, guiding it in mid-air.
“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager. “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,” he added.
MAD-FIRES is developed with a similar function as EXACTO: both are smart bullets that will track and adjust their in-flight trajectory for improved accuracy. What makes MAD-FIRES different, however, is the fact that it’s being developed specifically for use on Navy ships, whereas EXACTO was designed for use in .50 caliber guns.