Army Times (Monday May 17, 2010 5:52:31 EDT) Special Forces soldiers will take the XM25 to war this summer for an operational test of the Army’s first shoulder-fired, smart rifle.
The XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System is an offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program the Army began in 1994 to maximize ground-soldier firepower.
The futuristic-looking XM25 is capable of shooting air-bursting 25mm projectiles out to 750 meters.
With its boxy stock and oversized sighting device, the XM25 resembles the weapons carried by actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 movie “Men in Black.”
The weapon’s target acquisition system calculates the range to a target with a push of a button and transfers the data to the electronic fuse built into the 25mm round. When fired, the projectile is designed to explode directly above a target, raining shrapnel down on an enemy crouched behind cover.
“I thought it was the coolest weapon I’ve ever fire,” Sgt. 1st Class Lang Guereckis, of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, said.
This smart technology is pricey, though. The XM25 now costs about $30,000 each, and will likely cost $25,000 each by the time the Army begins fielding it in 2013.
Its predecessor, the XM29, was an over-and-under system with a 5.56mm carbine on the bottom and the 20mm airburst weapon on top. It stalled in the face of technical challenges that made the 18-pound weapon too heavy and bulky. The program ended up costing about $100 million.
But Army weapons officials argue the stand-alone XM25 brings a leap in technology that infantry units need on the battlefield today.
“It brings the capability to defeat targets that we are seeing every day out in Afghanistan,” Rich Audette, deputy project manager for Soldier Weapons, told reporters May 5 at Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Army weapons officials made repeated references to the difficulty soldiers had engaging enemy attackers during the Oct. 3 attack on Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province. It took about an hour for AH-64 Apache helicopter support to arrive on scene. Eight American soldiers were killed and 24 others were wounded before the enemy was finally pushed out of the camp’s perimeter.
The enemy took advantage of the extremely rugged and mountainous high ground that surrounded three sides of the small outpost.
“When you have [the XM25’s] capability at the squad level, it pays for itself, number one, but more importantly, they can take out those targets,” Audette said.
It’s still uncertain how many XM25s the Army plans to issue or how they will be distributed among combat units, weapons officials said.
XM25 was one of about a dozen Army weapons reporters had the chance to shoot at the Aberdeen event, including two upgrades for machine guns the service plans to begin fielding this summer.
One is the M2A1 50-caliber machine gun, an improved version of the venerable, 1933-vintage M2 that doesn’t require soldiers to set the headspace and timing when changing barrels. Headspace is the distance between the face of the bolt and the barrel.
“If you don’t set your headspace right, the cartridge is not going to fit,” said Maj. Mike Pottratz, assistant product manager for Crew Served Weapons, “and the timing on this gun is just like the timing on a car, where you have a timing belt and a piston. If your timing belt breaks or is off ... the gun will cease to function.”
The upgrade will include a quick-change barrel that can be switched out in less than 10 seconds, compared to a minute or longer with the current model.
“This is a tremendous improvement,” Pottratz said.
M240L: light version of M240B
The other machine-gun upgrade is the M240L, a lightweight version of the current M240B machine gun. The M240B is extremely reliable, but at 27.5 pounds it’s proving too heavy for soldiers to carry in rugged terrain such as the mountains of Afghanistan.
As a short-term fix, the Army fielded about 500 MK48 machine guns to forces deploying to Afghanistan. The MK48 is about 9 pounds lighter but lacks the long-term durability of the M240B.
Weapons officials maintain that the M240L’s titanium receiver shaves about 5 pounds off the weight of the M240B. The Army hopes to start fielding about 9,000 M240Ls to airborne and light infantry units by late summer.
Weight is always an issue to soldiers operating in mountainous terrain. The XM25 is slated to weigh 14 pounds when loaded with its four-round magazine. That’s extra weight some soldiers would have to carry in addition to their individual weapon.
This is not a problem to Sgt. Christopher Shupe, a squad leader with 3-71st Cavalry. He returned from his second deployment to Afghanistan in December.
“I’d carry it as an extra weapon with the M4,” said Shupe, who said he sees the XM25 as an ideal weapon for destroying enemy fighters hiding behind hilltops in Afghanistan.
“All they have to do to keep you from hitting them in a direct-fire role is get down behind that hill. When you have something you can set the distance so it explodes and engages, it takes that defense away,” he said.
To aim the XM25, the shooter “lases” the target by pressing a lasing button in front of the trigger guard, activating the XM25’s ballistic computer and laser range finder. An estimated range to the target is then numerically displayed inside the sight.
To engage an enemy hiding behind cover, the soldier lases to the particular barrier and adjusts the designated range to detonate the round behind the cover. Once the range has been adjusted, by using the two buttons labeled with plus and minus symbols underneath the lasing button, the round should explode over the target.
“It’s essentially like carrying a mortar tube but in a rifle format; it’s something that any soldier could use,” Shupe said.