Hat-tip to Jay for this piece from Wired:
Pirates Beware: Next-Gen Snipers Could Get Guided Bullets, Super Scopes
By Noah Shachtman April 13, 2009
American snipers are already center-of-the-bullseye accurate - just look at the three shots that ended the Somali pirate standoff in the Indian Ocean. But tomorrow's sharpshooters could be even sharper still, if a slew of Pentagon research projects work out as planned.
Already, we've seen Navy SEAL shooters take out three pirates with three trigger-pulls -- despite uneven seas and bobbing ships. Imagine how much easier the snipers' jobs would have been, if they had rounds that could change course in mid-air, to account for crosswinds, air density, and moving targets. Darpa, the Defense Department's way-out research arm, launched a $22 million effort in November to do just that. By countering these "fundamental limitation[s] of accuracy," Darpa thinks it can dramatically improve American snipers' range -- and "provide a dramatic new capability to the U.S. military."
And if this EXACTO ("EXtreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance") project doesn't work out, Darpa has other guided-bullet programs -- like a $7.5 million effort to use lasers to steer rounds to their targets. Laser guidance systems are what made the some of the early "smart bombs" so much more accurate than their predecessors; it changed how war was waged from the sky. "Smart bullets" could eventually make a similar impact, perhaps.
The agency is also working on ways to radically upgrade snipers' scopes and spotting gear. Researchers in the "One Shot" program are trying to build an optical system that'll compensate for hiccups in the local atmosphere. By using thousands of laser pulses, agency-funded investigators are hoping to create a profile of the "eddies" in the air, as the light bounces back. The scope, through a series of algorithms, can take those eddies into account, as the sniper team aims. Darpa hopes the new scope will give snipers lethal precision at a range of up to 2000 meters, in winds up to 40 miles per hour. If it happens, Defense Department researchers say, it'll boost a sniper's kill-rate by ten-fold, or more, and let snipers "engage and pull the trigger" in "less than one second."
A companion project, Super-Resolution Vision System (SRVS), wouldn't just make snipers more accurate. It would make them functionally invisible, as well. The system is trying to use "heat haze" -- that shimmer you see on summer days, out in the distance -- for helping snipers, instead of inhibiting them. In any given instant, the heated air acts as a series of lenses; you may be able to look right through them and see a magnified view of the scene beyond. The trick is to use digital technology to identify the "lucky regions" or "lucky frames" when a clear view appears and assemble them into a complete picture. SRVS researchers are aiming to do just that.
If scope works out, it'll be a particular spooky tool. Even if the target is looking right at you, they won’t see a thing because of the heat haze. A sniper using one of these will be a truly invisible assassin, with the ideal technology for picking off high-value targets.
The prototype is supposed to be ready this year. Finished units could be delivered to Special Operations units as early as 2011. As if pirates didn't have enough to worry about.
-- Noah Shachtman, with David Hambling