Glowing Bullets Let Soldiers Aim While Hiding
Tracer rounds, special bullets that light up like fireworks, have helped soldiers aim machine gun fire for almost a century. And for those 100 years, enemy soldiers have watched those flashing bullet trails to discover the location of the shooter. Now the U.S. Department of Defense wants to give full advantage to the home team by creating a special tracer round that only the shooter can see.
The secret to the new tracer round is a non-combustible version that uses glow in the dark materials similar to those found in watches or emergency signs, and only lights up in the back during the weapon firing process. By contrast, today's tracer rounds use pyrotechnic materials to create the "fireworks-like effect" that also makes them visible to both friend and foe on the battlefield.
"With non-combustible tracers, only the rear of the bullet is emitting light directly at the shooter which greatly reduces the ability of others to determine the shooter's location," said Daniel De Bonis, a materials engineer in ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. "This increases survivability of our forces."
The newer tracer rounds could also improve the aim of U.S. soldiers by getting rid of the pyrotechnics. Combustible material on today's tracers gets used up during the bullet's flight, so that the bullet weight and trajectory change and don't strike the same spot where the normal bullets end up hitting.
Eliminating the trajectory problem may even allow U.S. forces to make every bullet a tracer round, rather than having tracers as one of every four bullets.
"It is planned to incorporate every round with non-combustible tracer technology, thus assuring [soldiers] are hitting what [they] see," De Bonis said. "This increases lethality."
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and other U.S. defense agencies still need to tweak the phosphorescent materials used in the newer tracer rounds to find which material holds up best under the heat caused by a weapon firing.
"Coatings need to be chemically stable with the materials being used, tolerate extreme environments, not reduce the performance of the trace signature nor the ballistic performance of the round itself," De Bonis said.
But once the technology is perfected, expect to see the new and improved tracers boost the aim of U.S. warriors in all branches of the military. The involvement of the Naval Research Laboratory's Advanced Laser Concepts Group could mean that even a combination laser and machine gun won't get left out of the action.