Last year was a big year for science. Many more people will now be killed in brilliant new high-tech ways. In a breakthrough by the US Department of Defense, the first self-guiding sniper bullets have been developed.

Currently, snipers can hit targets from 600 metres with 90 percent accuracy. It surely goes without saying that we need to improve on this. Teledyne Scientific and Imaging has delivered.

The company developed what it claims is the first handheld sniper rifle that can re-direct bullets mid-flight, at high accuracy within two kilometres. The new technology provides a grotesque illustration of how talented scientists aid US imperialism. Complex technologies, theoretical innovations and human ingenuity, which deserve to be marvelled at, are instead combined to raise the level of barbarity in the world.

The project, called EXACTO (Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance) was funded in 2010 by a $US25 million grant from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In fact, this money is for “phase two” only. “Phase one” cost a further $US9.5 million, while a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin called Sandia National Laboratories received $US12.5 million to develop its own version. Competition is great for humanity.

Companies like Sandia National Laboratories are running a large number of projects. They include developing kinetic energy warheads that can deploy thousands of penetrating fragments to destroy a target. Sandia alone had a budget of $US168 million in 2013. Its self-declared mission is to maintain the reliability of nuclear weapon systems, and ensure the US “maintains science and engineering superiority in a world replete with threats to our national security”.

In a rational society, science would be for improving society and making life better for the majority of people. Under capitalism we can see this possibility. For example, researchers currently are exploring ways of using direct current stimulation of the human brain to increase learning efficiency.

Unfortunately, Sandia is conducting some of this research in aid of training soldiers and intelligence operatives more quickly.

Imagine if the nearly $US50 million instead was used to hire more than a thousand teachers. Or if Sandia went without its 2013 budget – 47,000 poor people could be fed for a year.

The combined Army, Navy and Marine Corps and the Air Force R&D budget amounted to $US49.7 billion last year. Most of this went toward developing new technologies for weapons. Instead it could have built 100 new hospitals.

And the skills and research power of scientists could have been put to increasing people’s quality of life, rather than figuring out more efficient ways of killing them.