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Set during the early to mid 21st century war on terrorism did not meet expectations and civilian death tolls is alarmingly high, despite more frequent air strikes and land based assaults at the heart of the terrorist's homeland majority of the casualties are civilian and there is still no sign of weakening from the terrorist group. In order to minimize innocent death US military R&D develops a more hi tech and sophisticated assault rifle that is capable of firing a projectile that can seek out foe with or without laser guidance. Can modern technology delivers such convenient tool for killing or do I put my money on drones instead?

Actually my intended design is for each bullet to read target's retina or face if possible. The primary objective is to hit zero stray bullet, including those ricocheted especially in hostage situation where in most cases friendly fire occurs.

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    $\begingroup$ I have to wonder if the US would be willing to spend the time and money on such a technology just to save civilians. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 11 '15 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh umm...You mean you doubt the US military would spend money on these? $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 11 '15 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ As if "terrorism" could be solved with better weapons... By killing terrorists, you not only fight a mere symptom, you make the underlying problem worse. It's like scratching yourself raw because you have a rash. Using a laser-guided cheese grater instead of your fingernails won't solve your problem. $\endgroup$ – Hackworth Aug 11 '15 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Having been in the Air Force I can tell you the US Military goes to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 11 '15 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ I should also say (in regards to the actual question) that an assault rifle is a poor choice for this question. The better use of this technology would be in long barreled or sniper rifles. Assault rifles tend to be automatic or at least semi automatic and comparatively cheap to shoot. They are less specialized than many other weapons allowing the user flexibility in use. The ammunition and technology you are talking about is very specialized and would likely be very expensive and in the end it is not nearly as useful in a firefight as it would be for a sniper a mile away from a target. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 11 '15 at 17:56
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A guided munition can do what you ask, but...

In this early 2015 video developed by US DARPA, we can see that current guided bullet tech can only manage a few degrees of deviation along a flight path using an optical guidance system (which may be enough for OP's needs). Note that this munition uses a .50 caliber round, far larger and heavier than an assault rifle bullet. The larger the round, the more delta v can be packed into it and still maintain sufficiently high KE on impact.

Embedding the facial/retinal scanning hardware inside the munition may be possible with current tech right now but with significant tradeoffs to range or killing power on impact. Embedding the facial recognition into the optical guidance system mounted to the assault rifle is a much better place to put it as larger optics grant greater precision. Remember, the farther away you want to see, generally the larger the optics you must use. So, beyond a certain range, embedding optics in the munition will require significantly larger shells, thus pushing up the size of the weapon and lowering it's utility to the infantry.

Eliminating stray bullets is possible when each shot fired is carefully aimed. Assault rifles are designed to spray a target area with bullets so there's a slight mismatch in weapon design here. Ricocheting rounds is impossible to eliminate completely. A round impacting a 20° plate will bounce off. Sometimes, hitting an iron plate will cause the round to bounce back towards the firer, like this guy.

Drones, maybe

I can't think of a way that drones will be appreciably better for the requirements you've stated. A drone provides better positioning before a shot but I don't see how this will eliminate civilian casualties.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. If you'll accept a big gun I think a round with basically zero ricochet potential is possible. Consider a round made up of very small pellets only loosely bound together. To withstand being fired this is placed inside a much more solid case that can withstand being fired--but then the casing splits and falls off. What hits the target disintegrates on impact but it's big enough to take out the target despite low penetration. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Aug 13 '15 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ As for in-flight guidance: Leave it home. Put your facial recognition unit and the big lenses somewhere it can observe and illuminate the target, the bullet is a simple beam rider. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Aug 13 '15 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ Addendum: Something we would call a bullet can't carry useful facial recognition. The problem is diffraction--you simply can't build the necessary optics that small, the small lenses will blur your image too much. This isn't a manufacturing issue but inherent in the nature of light. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Apr 9 '17 at 5:02
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(I'm going to generalize to "projectile" here, since what you're asking for seems to be a missile-type device in a bullet form-factor.)

There are two big problems you need to solve:

First is tech - a guided projectile needs a lot of tech to work. First off you either need some sort of sensor suite to "see" the target (and thus know what to do to hit it), or a comm suite (so the gun or other external observer can tell the bullet where to go). Plus, you'll need some sort of computing platform, and most importantly, a thrust system to change the direction. Oh, and all of this needs to be able to compensate for a rifled bullet spinning at an absurd rate (Google tells me that an M4 carbine's bullets spin at a couple hundred thousand RPM), and any changes to direction will need to happen very fast (since bullets travel at hundreds or thousands of feet per second).

To be clear, I am absolutely hand-waving the entire "how do you tell a spinning bullet to move 'left'" problem into super-science land.

The second problem is that you need to fit all of this into the projectile itself, and that means you're making a heavier bullet or a more fragile one. A 50cal bullet is only about six-inches long, and there's no empty space in there. Something is going to need to be sacrificed.

But amusingly, there is something closer to what you're thinking of - gyrojets. Played with in the 60s, they're essentially really small missiles that are fired from guns. You shoot from a gun, but they fly like a missile (little fins and all). While they were impractical back then due to technology, new improvements in radio control could be what you're looking for, if you're more interested in "guns that don't miss" over "bullets that don't miss".

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  • $\begingroup$ No hand-waving needed to counteract rifling. The technical term is "slip obturator", and the device is commonly used when tanks fire fin-stabilized rounds from rifled barrels. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 8 '17 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ Spin is your friend here: This way you need only one nozzle, because it will point into all directions at one point. A hundred Thousand RPM is a few thousand rounds per second, easily manageable by current tech. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Mar 14 at 12:18
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Put your money on drones instead.

With sufficient future tech, you could devise ballistic mini-drones.

I can picture something between a large caliber shot gun and a smart cluster bomb. More or less the user targets an enemy with a laser and fires/releases a swarm of small explosive drones.

Those drones that can safely reach the target strike, penetrate and explode, while those that can't harmlessly self destruct in flight. This eliminates over-penetration and ricochets.

Retinal scans and facial recognition wouldn't be feasible for a lot of reasons. Mainly it would be too slow. Beyond that you would need to program the projectile with a ridiculous number of friendly faces/retinas to avoid or hostile faces/retinas to target. Which leaves a big hole, full of unknown targets.


Regardless of the weapon design I doubt that you could achieve a "zero stray bullet" outcome. No matter how well designed the weapon is you still have to rely on available intelligence and tactical information. I would guess that more civilian casualties are caused by poor intel than by poor weaponry.

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I would bet on swarm of drones to scan the whole location and provide data to central/distributed inteligence. Than human (assisted with AI) would sort out targets/non-targets and the swarm would keep them in visibility at all time to not lose track who is who. Until you know, who is bad guy and who is victim, there is no much sense in shooting.

Then the sniper cames to play - it may be human with gun (but there is big problem to put him in a place in urban envirnment fast enought) or it can be sniper drone. The balistic of the bullet can be computed somewhere else, then just the sniper shoots at designed target and the bullet have to hit it. Having swarm of sensors around and sniper gun equipped with a lot of electronics too, the bullet can be much simpler and just follow precomputed way and make just small corrections suggested by the swarm and sniper.

If there is big and fast change in scenery, the bullet can just explode mid-air and be fragmented to small pieces which lose velocity realy fast and make just little (and curabel) harm, even if they hit.

Anyway if you need "sure-hit-at-all-cost" then bullet is too fast and too hard to presice manuevre and target recognition, small rocket, or even drone, would be much better substitution (more space for electronics ans mainly sensors, much better manuevruability and it still can be really fast (say crosbow-arrow fast or even more) and able to avoit non-targets at the same time).

The price would be larger, than for plain bullet, but probably lesser than for electronical self-guiding face recognizing, fast desion making bullet - as you can use larger elecronics and sensors (so easier to make, more powerfull and sensors more acurate) and offset nearly all the inteligence to the swarm (and computing after that), so on hit you sacrifice just basic sensosr, sipmple actuators and sender/receirver unit, not full supercomputer squashed to fraction of place (and all above also extremly miniaturized).

This bullet-drone can be missile of size like bottle or so, easy manufacturable, cheap to create and able to safely selfdestruct, as the velocity of its parts would be much smaler. And the swarm-net can see the whole area from all angles and main computer can be as big and powerfull as you want, if you want, you can fit it to jumbo plane or warship or truck (or bettr tank/armored vehicle) or what you want and have at hands.

(Also see the shift from old megacomputers to internet, cloud and IOT - I see similar way from old main battle tanks and warships to aircraft carriers (which does not fire bullets, just send planes) to future urban warfare, where you need "make war" between civilean on streats and shopping centres without much collateral.)

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Think of the projectile fired as a small self-propelled missile with a tiny camera for target identification and tracking and an on-board computer controlling basic guidance.

You could make this a baseball bat sized missile shot from a special launcher to cigar-sized to regular bullet sized to match how much science fiction you are using.

We have missiles that visually track a selected target, so the challenge would be to miniaturize this more and improve target recognition to recognize a face. This would require some technology we current don't have but it is not a giant leap into science fiction.

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Avoiding ricochets is easy, you use Glaser safety slugs which shatter on impact, doing grievous damage to the immediate surface and not much beyond that. They're completely ineffective against armor but armor isn't in style with terrorists these days. If they do have armor, then the guidance system would be vital for hitting unarmored parts (hands, faces, whatever) to neutralize the threat.

Reading a targets retina or face from the bullet is out of reach for the foreseeable future. It also seems unlikely that you'll have the retina scan for the terrorists, but for high value hostages there might already be a scan on file. Might I suggest that the gun itself does face scans and activates a secondary safety in case the muzzle crosses a hostage? Plus, with face scans, you can do recon of the scene and program in faces right then and there.

As for guidance, there's no way to do that for cheap. You've gotta put fins on the bullet and a guidance system on the soldier or gun.

The way I would design it is that the gun projects a hollow cylinder of laser light, around the muzzle, and the bullet travels down the center of it. It would be stabilized to a weighted average of the previous second or so, so that muzzle rise from automatic fire doesn't throw off the bullets. As the bullet passes through the edges of the cylinder, it can detect which side passed first and adjust back towards the middle track. This would also allow marksmen to set up a non-attached system, like a hoop they'd fire through, that guarantees all shots land in the exact correct spot regardless of recoil. As technology gets better the solider could tag a target in their heads-up-display and the beam would automatically lock onto whatever target is closest to the muzzle's current direction.

There's two ways to actuate the guidance on the bullet. The cheaper-per-bullet way would be to make the fins out of a material that flexes when exposed to strong laser light, and then make the laser strong enough to flex them. Memory wire is the sort of technology that could do this but it isn't mature enough yet. This would also require a significant power expenditure on the laser's batteries, but that could be mitigated by only going high-power for a few seconds after each shot.

The other way would be to have sensors and actuators on the bullet and use a regular-strength laser. The sensors are cheap, the actuators are cheap, it's the battery and the integration of all the components that are expensive. For the battery I'd suggest a molten salt battery ignited by the gunpowder to provide enough juice over its brief flight.

In the short term I'd expect the guidance technology to come to marksmen first. Eventually, as miniaturization advances, it might become common. But a dumb bullet will always be cheaper and pretty damn effective. The face-discrimination technology could be integrated in the sight on automatic weapons where chaotic close quarters combat occurs and mistaking targets is most likely.

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A bullet is a ballistic projectile that is not capable of steering itself after launch.

If it is indeed that you are talking about some kind of projectile fired from a handheld weapon in the sense of a traditional bullet then it would have to be essentially a mini-rocket/mini-missile undertaking powered flight.

It would require sensors in order to home on its target of course, and the ability to steer itself towards the target and, presumably, stop itself dead if it fails to hit its objective.

I don't doubt that it could be created given time and technology, with a lot of speed sacrificed to manoeuvrability as it would experience extreme gforces having to make tight turns to hit its target travelling at supersonic speeds, but it would not be a bullet.

A bullet is just like a rock someone has thrown but at very high speed.

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    $\begingroup$ @Aron Easy tiger. ctravisuk, what Aron is trying to say is hi, and welcome to the site. There are certain standards the community works to maintain in relation to research and quality when it comes to questions and answers. Getting the hang of the expectations is a bit of a learning curve but like the rest of us give it some time and you will get familiar. In the meantime feel free to check out the help link (top of the page). $\endgroup$ – James Aug 11 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry i don't understand your comment. I think that perhaps another was there but was removed before i could see it? I would have messaged you directly to ask what you mean but i cant see how to do that :) $\endgroup$ – ctravisuk Aug 12 '15 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ No worries, there was another comment that while technically correct, should have taken into account your new-ness to the site in its tone. It has been removed. And for reference there is no private messaging system per se on stack exchange. If you do want to talk to people visit chat: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/17213/worldbuilders-general-chat and then use @username to get peoples attention $\endgroup$ – James Aug 12 '15 at 15:48

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