By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 08, 2011) -- Only five XM25 weapons exist today, but Soldiers lucky enough to have used them in Afghanistan are saying more are needed.
Two Soldiers took the prototype weapons into theater to link them up with requesting units. They trained troops on the weapon's use and managed the Forward Operational Assessment to collect information about the weapon's performance in theater and how Soldiers used it.
"The XM25 brought the difference to whether they would stay there 15 to 20 minutes shooting (and) taking pot shots or the actual fight ended after using the XM25," said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Smith, Soldier Requirements Division, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga. "That was due to the defilade capabilities of the XM25 to shoot beyond targets and behind targets."
The XM25 allows Soldiers to engage defilade targets -- those behind a barrier, protected from oncoming weapons fire. The XM25 measures the distance to the enemy's protective barrier, and can then program the round to detonate a user-adjustable distance past that -- allowing Soldiers to put an air-bursting round directly above the enemy's head, inside their protected area.
The round measures the distance it travels by counting its own rotations after leaving the barrel.
Both Smith and Maj. Christopher Conley, an assistant product manager for Program Manager Soldier Weapons, at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., were part of the team that brought those weapons into theater for Soldiers to use in actual combat. The five prototype weapons entered theater in November, and were first used in combat Dec. 3.
Since then, hundreds of XM25 rounds have been fired in theater, though only 55 of those rounds were fired as part of combat, on nine different operational missions.
"We disrupted two insurgents on an OP (observation point) and we silenced two machine-gun positions -- two PKM positions," said Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner, Product Manager Individual Weapons for Project Manager Soldier Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., describing some of the scenarios he witnessed in theater where the XM25 had been used. "We destroyed four ambush locations, where the survivors fled."
"And when we launched it at a longer range target, who was carrying a machine gun and it exploded near his target -- it either badly wounded him or scared him good enough that he dropped his machine gun and ran away," Lehner recounted.
Overall in Afghanistan, the five XM25s have been with two separate units. The first unit used the weapon on four engagements and fired 28 rounds in combat. The second unit was able to use the XM25 on five engagements and fired 27 rounds in combat.
"The troops are very excited to carry it," Conley said. "We've limited who can carry it based on the number of folks that we've trained. But within that group of Soldiers that are trained on the operation of the XM25, I heard a Soldier say 'hey, he carried it yesterday, so I get it today.'"
Some Soldiers who've used the XM25 in Afghanistan had taken to naming the weapon -- though there is no official name for the system yet.
"The kids are calling it 'the Punisher,'" said Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, who heads up the Program Executive Office Soldier. "I don't know what we're going to title this product, but it seems to be game-changing. You no longer can shoot at American forces and then hide behind something. We're going to reach out and touch you."
Lehner said during the Forward Operational Assessment, the performance of the XM25, and Soldier response to the system, provided positive response to three questions about the system from Army leadership, including if the weapon gives "higher probability of effect," if the weapon provides more survivability for the Soldier, and how will the weapon be used at squad and platoon level.
"What our Soldiers have told us is, when we do fire this weapon, it does have a high probability of effect," Lehner said. "The enemy stops firing. They flee. They drag off their casualties. Essentially, a Soldier is very happy when the enemy stops firing at him."
Soldier survivability is also increased with the XM25 because it allows Soldiers to fire on the enemy from protected positions, while the enemy themselves believe they are in protected positions.
"We have increased the survivability of our Soldiers because our Soldiers no longer have to maneuver from their cover position to gain an advantageous firing spot for the enemy," Lehner said. "We are able to stay behind cover, and we welcome (the
enemy) to stay behind cover -- because we'll get you."
Conley and Smith also said that Soldiers were using the XM25 as their primary weapon -- forgoing additional weapons like the M4, for instance.
When the Forward Operational Assessment ended in January, and the testing organization had enough data to send to the Army leadership, they expected to take the weapons home, but Soldiers thought otherwise.
"We had the Soldiers ask us to leave the weapon there and the ammo there," said Lehner. "They did not want to give up that capability. The word got back to us, we made the decision, let them keep the XM25, let them keep that additional ammunition. We will then go ahead and go back downrange and collect up any additional data that they have received."
Now the Army is working to find the money to build an additional 36 XM25 weapons, said Col. Douglas A. Tamilio, the Army's program manager for Soldier weapons.
"The Army is looking to find some kind of funding that we can put against maybe a battalion set," he said. "It will depend on how much funding we can get. The idea would be if we can get that funding, we absolutely would try to get these into the fight in a year. And we think we can do that. "
Right now, an obstacle to getting more XM25s into theater is that each weapon and each round must be built by hand, Tamilio said. There are no production lines yet for the system.
The Army won't begin mass producing the XM25 until sometime in 2013 at the earliest, Tamilio said. Before that, improvements must be made to the system, including those learned from its use in Afghanistan.
Tamilio said improvements include improved battery life, as the XM25 is full of electronics. Also, he said, the 12.5-pound weapon could be lightened some, though Soldiers are now overwhelmed by the capability of the weapons. Tamilio also said Soldiers would like to see the weapon's range extended to about 1,000 meters. Its current range is about 500 meters for a point target and 700 meters for an area target.
The XM25, officially called a "counter-defilade target-engagement system," recently reached a milestone decision B in its acquisition cycle and has only recently entered into the engineering and manufacturing development phase, or EMD, of the procurement process.
"We still have to get through EMD, still get some fixes into the gun that we know need to be fixed -- to make it durable and reliable," Tamilio said. "We have to go through a very stringent safety procedure with this gun."