A self-guiding bullet, capable of steering itself towards its target, is being developed for use by the US military, law enforcement and recreational purposes, a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed said Monday.

Sandia National Laboratories, an Albuquerque-based company, said that the facility has created a “dart-like, self-guided bullet for small-caliber, smooth-bore firearms” that has the ability to high “laser-designated targets” more than a mile away, and that the smart bullet’s accuracy actually improves the longer it flies.

Weapons experts say that the bullet is well-suited to snipers, but they worry about it being marketed to the public.

The prototype is a 4-inch bullet with an optical sensor in its nose to detect the laser that can process information to move motors within the bullet steering tiny fins that guides the ammunition’s path.

Unlike most bullets that spin to fly straight and decreases with accuracy the farther they move away from the muzzle, the smart bullet flies straight just as a dart does, and is able to self-correct 30 times a second, gradually steering towards a target.

Researchers said that they attached a tiny LED to the bullet to reveal that the bullet is more accurate the farther it travels, as the 8-bit controller recalculates its trajectory and guides it closer to the target.

"The natural body frequency of this bullet is about 30 hertz, so we can make corrections 30 times per second," co-inventor Red Jones said in a statement. "That means we can overcorrect, so we don't have to be as precise each time."

The research team said that there are still “engineering issues” that remain after conducting field tests and computer simulations, but they are confident of bringing the product to market.

Experts believe that there would be great demand for the smart bullet on the battlefield.

"One of the big successes in Libya was that the accuracy of the munitions used was much higher than in previous campaigns," Elizabeth Quintana, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank told the BBC. "97 percent of NATO's weapons hit their target to within about 2m (6.5ft). But that was achieved through air munitions.”

"This would be a revolution for ground forces, and may help further cut down on civilian casualties in future conflicts," Quintana added.

Tests have shown that the bullet can reach over twice the speed of sound, at 2,400 feet per second using commercially available gunpowder, which is still below standard military speeds.

However, researchers said that they are confident that they can increase the bullet’s speed with customized gunpowder.

“Potential customers for the bullet include the military, law enforcement and recreational shooters,” Sandia Labs wrote in a press release, igniting concerns from some in the weapon industry.

"The public may be uncomfortable with the implications of people being able to use this without needing to have a sight line to the target - you could see this having terrorist uses," said Quintana, according to BBC.

"There's talk of selling to recreational hunters, but I would imagine the authorities would want to limit the public's access to this kind of technology. But it would be useful for law enforcement - particularly in hostage situations," Quintana added.

Photo: A tiny light-emitting diode, or LED, attached to a self-guided bullet at Sandia National Laboratories shows a bright path during a nighttime field test that proved the battery and electronics could survive the bullet's launch. Credit: Sandia/handout