A Key Concept About Self-Guided Bullets

What are self-guided bullets

TLDR: Think of self-guided bullets like smart paper airplanes, not a heat-seeking missile. (Maddy Shernock image via sxc.hu)

DV Berkom is a thriller writer who wrote to me recently with a question about using self-guided bullets in her WIP. Berkom’s question brought up a key concept about self-guided bullets that I think pop culture gets wrong. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Here’s Berkom’s question, re-posted with her permission:

The year is 2006…I was thinking about using a .50 caliber smart round and its guidance system, but DARPA didn’t start working on one until 2008 and didn’t fire it until 2014, so it seems a bit of a stretch. I realize it’s fiction, but I’d like to be within the realm of possibility. If you were to read this, would you chuck the book across the room, or is it plausible enough?

Here’s my response:

Here’s my take with self-guided bullets. Although the first example of a successful test I can confirm was in 2012, this is technology that’s been tinkered with for decades. If you want to come up with an underground or DARPA-style version for your fiction, you’d be fine with the timeline you outlined. I just don’t have an example to give you for 2006 (although there’s probably good reason for that).

That said, the only eye-rollers I’d suggest you avoid are depicting the bullet performing maneuvers beyond slight adjustments in its trajectory.

This tech isn’t like a heat-seeking missile. It’s more like an intelligent paper airplane. So, 45- or 90-degree turns are out, but pinpoint precision isn’t.

And here’s exactly how that tech functions in the real world:

Writers looking to pull off something similar to that movie clip at the top of the post may want to provide some explanation. It’d probably look more like a rocket and less like a bullet at that point.

Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

5 thoughts on “A Key Concept About Self-Guided Bullets

  1. It really seems more suiting for one extra-nasty villain or antagonist. Or a protagonist who is actually a weapon engineer.

    Going close to fiction, when real science is nearly there, may disturb some readers, but may as well fascinate others.

    If anybody remembers: Cyberpunk, as a genre, was nearly overcome by real world technological advances. And that just within two decades! We are still a bit behind on body-part replacement at every discounter, but one more decade of medical & cybernetic research will be another proverbial milestone, which our ancestors would have considered a miracle, or witchcraft.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Terrific point, Andre. Science fiction will always have that challenge. Heck, half the posts on this site might be obsolete just as quickly. But if the story is solid, the tech shouldn’t matter. If we ever get around to cloning dinosaurs, I’ll still watch the original Jurassic Park.


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