Sandia Labs' Self-Guided Bullet for Future Soldiers

Self-guided bullet steering itself toward its target. (Image Credit: Sandia National Laboratories)

War is ugly, chaotic business, and even the best shot in the U.S. military often misses in the heat of battle. Tests show that the average rifle bullet, aimed at a target half a mile away, will miss by 30 feet.

The bullet in the time exposure above did not miss. Two engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico report they have designed a self-guided bullet, a little like a miniaturized, low-budget guided missile.

"It's a bullet that can change its flight path so that it can more accurately hit a target at long range," said Red Jones, one of the two researchers, in an interview with ABC News.  He and Brian Kast assembled a small team to work on the project.  Both Jones and Kast happen to be hunters.

Here's how it works: Conventional gun barrels have grooves in them that set a bullet spinning for stability.  Watch Eli Manning or Tom Brady throw a tight spiral at Sunday's Super Bowl and you'll see the same principle at work.

The spiral helps, but a bullet still loses altitude and - even at supersonic speed - can be thrown slightly off course. Jones and Kast replaced the grooves with tiny fins, which can correct the bullet's path in midair so that it will follow a laser beam from the soldier's gun sight.

Jones said the new bullet can make course corrections 30 times per second - and while conventional bullets might miss the target by 30 feet, their patent says the guided bullet would hit within eight inches of its target.

It meant adding some miniature electronics and a battery to each bullet, which, of course, adds to the cost - but just one smart bullet that hits its target,  researchers say, could be cheaper than a hail of bullets that go astray.

Sandia, owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and operated by Lockheed Martin, says it is looking for commercial partners to develop the new bullet for mass production.  Potential customers include the military and law enforcement, Sania said, and perhaps hunters as well.

ABC News' Andrea Smith contributed to this report.