Jan 9, 2011

Nowhere to Hide — A ‘Smart’ Individual Weapon System for the Soldier

The following article was written by Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner for the Army News Service.

 The U.S. Army achieved a new milestone in weapon technology on August 11, 2009, when one of its Soldiers successfully shoulder fired a ‘smart’ High Explosive Airburst (HEAB) round from the XM25 weapon system at the Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland.
At first glance, the XM25 looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. It features an array of sights, sensors and lasers housed in a Target Acquisition Fire Control unit (TAFC) on top, an oversized magazine behind the trigger mechanism, and a short, ominous barrel wrapped by a recoil dampening sleeve. Unlike a Hollywood prop, however, this weapon is very real and designed to accurately deliver an explosive round that neutralizes targets at distances of up to 700 meters – well past the range of the rifles and carbines that most Soldiers carry today.
“What makes this weapon system truly revolutionary is the ability to target the enemy, pass on this information to the sensors and microchips of its 25mm HEAB round, and have that round detonate over the target,” explained MAJ Shawn Murray, a Soldier Weapons Assistant Product Manager in Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, the organization responsible for developing the XM25. “When the HEAB round explodes the target is peppered with fragmentation.  Our studies indicate that the XM25 with HEAB is 300 percent more effective at incapacitating the enemy than current weapons at the squad level.”
Because of the XM25’s unique TAFC and HEAB round, Soldiers will be able to engage enemy forces located in the open and “in defilade” –behind cover, such as walls, rocks, trenches, or inside buildings. The semi-automatic weapon’s magazine holds four 25mm rounds and can be employed at night or during inclement weather thanks to the XM25’s built-in thermal sight.   The Army plans on purchasing over 12,500 XM25 systems starting in 2012, which will be enough to put one in each Infantry squad and Special Forces team.

After only five minutes of instruction at the Aberdeen Test Center, SGT Logan E. Diveley from the 180th Infantry Regiment was able to put his first HEAB round through a building’s window and take out an enemy mannequin at 200 meters. When asked what he thought of the weapon, SGT Diveley responded, “I’ve been in over nine contacts with the enemy during my two tours in Iraq. Their ambushes were usually initiated with an IED and followed up with small arms fire from behind walls and buildings, places where it was hard for us to get at them. The XM25 would have taken care of things and made our jobs much easier.”
Once downrange and in the building where the defeated enemy mannequin lay, MAJ Murray noted the limited collateral damage associated with the XM25. “Because of its pinpoint accuracy and relatively small warheads, the XM25 can neutralize an enemy without the need to destroy a whole building. For our counter insurgency operations to be successful, it is important to keep collateral damage to a minimum and to protect the civilian population. I think the XM25 will prove itself many times over in Afghanistan,” Murray said.
The XM25 is being developed by PEO Soldier, the Army acquisition organization responsible for nearly every piece of equipment worn or carried by Soldiers. This includes items ranging from socks, to weapons, to advanced sensor and communication devices. PEO Soldier bases much of its work on the feedback from individual Soldiers, developing or procuring solutions to meet those needs. The development of the XM25 is one such a program, designed to provide Soldiers a solution for dealing with enemies in the open and behind cover  that is more precise, quicker to employ, and more cost effective than mortar, artillery, or air-strikes.

A Battlefield Scenario for the XM25

An American patrol nears a walled, Afghan village when an enemy combatant looks over the wall and fires his AK-47 rifle at the oncoming U.S. Soldiers. The Americans return fire with their rifles and maneuver, but find it difficult to neutralize the enemy rifleman who repeatedly exposes himself for only a second, shoots, then ducks behind the thick wall. At this time, the patrol leader calls for the XM25 gunner to take action.

Immediately, the XM25 gunner aims the laser range finder at the top of the wall where the enemy last ducked down. The gunner presses the laser range finder button on the front of the XM25’s trigger guard and records a distance to the wall of 451 meters. The distance is displayed on the TAFC’s optical lens along with an adjusted aim point, or “cross hair,” to help the soldier better aim the XM25. This adjusted aim point takes into account air pressure, temperature, and the ballistics of the 25mm round for the given range of 451 meters. The soldier then uses the increment button on the trigger guard and adds one more meter to the firing solution since the enemy combatant is approximately a meter behind the wall.

Upon pulling the trigger, the TAFC programs the HEAB round in the chamber of the weapon, telling the round to explode at 452 meters from launch point. The HEAB round departs the rifled barrel, arms at 30 meters, clears the top of the wall at 451 meters and explodes its two warheads at 452 meters, right above the enemy. The entire firing sequence takes the gunner less than five seconds to aim and fire and another 2.5 seconds for the round to fly and explode over the target, thereby clearing the way for the patrol to resume its mission.


XM25 Update

There have been numerous stories in the media lately covering the XM25’s forward operational assessment in Afghanistan. We wanted to provide an update on PEO Soldier LIVE with the facts.
  • The Army is currently conducting a forward operational assessment of the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System in Afghanistan.
  • Prototypes arrived in theater in Afghanistan in November. Project Manager Soldier Weapons personnel conducted new equipment training with select units and are monitoring the use and performance of the systems during the assessment period.
  • The prototype weapons are being carried actively on patrols, and in various combat outposts. Soldier feedback at this stage will allow the Army to make engineering refinements to the system and will assist the Army in making future decisions regarding budget, tactics, basis of issue, and other improvements Soldiers want to see in the weapon system.
  • The next phase for the XM25 program is to build a quantity of production representative weapons and ammunition to deploy into theater for further combat assessments.
  • Finally, with testing complete and Army approvals in place, systems will be produced and issued beginning in 2014 – enough to support one per infantry squad and Special Forces Team.

Why a “Game Changer”

For centuries, combatants have been trained to protect themselves from direct fire by seeking cover behind a rock, tree, wall, trench, or anything that could stop a projectile. Soon this rule will no longer apply. The XM25 removes an enemy’s protective cover because it fires a High Explosive Airburst (HEAB) round that can be programmed to detonate at precise distances past the cover and next to the enemy. The HEAB round also has a point detonation capability so whether the enemy is behind cover or in the open, they can be neutralized.  
The introduction of the XM25 is akin to other revolutionary systems such as the machine gun, the airplane and the tank, all of which changed battlefield tactics. No longer will our Soldiers have to expose themselves by firing and maneuvering to eliminate an enemy behind cover. Our Soldiers can remain covered/protected and use their XM25 to neutralize an enemy in his covered position. This will significantly reduce the risk of U.S. casualties and change the way we fight.
Finally, the system is less expensive, more precise, quicker to deploy, and causes less collateral damage than mortars, artillery or air-strikes. This makes the weapon especially valuable in Afghanistan where protecting the lives and property of the civilian population is critical while defeating the insurgency.
For more information on the XM25, you can download a factsheet or read my article, “Nowhere to Hide — A ‘Smart’ Individual Weapon System for the Soldier,”  which features information on how the system works in a battlefield scenario.
Lt. Col. Chris Lehner
Product Manager Individual Weapons
PM Soldier Weapons

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