Wednesday, August 15, 2018 — One of the most intriguing weapon stories of the past decade has come to end, not with a bang but a whimper.
For years, the US military has been trying to develop and field an infantry weapon that would allow our troops to effectively shoot around corners, engaging enemy soldiers who were behind cover or inside buildings and unreachable by rifle fire.
The final result of that effort, the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System, has shown a lot of promise along the way but just never quite delivered and the program has finally been killed.
The XM25, also referred to as ‘The Punisher,’ began life as part of the XM29 Objective Individual Combat Weapon system, a prototype combination assault rifle and grenade launcher with an advanced computerized targeting system. The XM29’s carbine fired standard 5.56mm bullets and the grenade launcher fired 20mm high explosive rounds that could be programed to detonate at a certain distance. The idea was that enemy who could not be engaged with the rifle, such as those in trenches, behind walls, or inside buildings, could be targeted with the grenade launcher. The soldier would fire grenades toward the target and they would go off after passing over the trench or going through a window, hitting the enemy despite his cover.
Unfortunately, the cutting-edge XM29 prototype suffered from typical prototype problems. The weapon itself was too heavy for effective infantry use, the computerized targeting system was bulky and fragile, and the whole thing was prohibitively expensive to produce. Another major issue was the fact that the 20mm grenades lacked lethality. The small warheads just weren’t powerful enough to reliably take out their targets.
Out of the ashes of the XM29 OICW came the XM25 CDTE.
This new prototype took the grenade launcher and targeting system of the XM29 and turned it into a self-contained weapon. By dispensing with the carbine, the bulk and cost of the XM25 was made more manageable and the grenade was upsized to 25mm, adding a great deal of punch. The XM25 performed moderately well in testing and, in 2010, was deployed in limited numbers to the war zone of Afghanistan.
Though many positive reports were seen in the media, the real world trials were not without problems. Even though it’s lighter than the XM29, the XM25 still weighed 14 pounds empty, roughly twice as much as an M4 carbine. Additionally, the bulk and weight of the 25mm grenade ammunition meant that XM25 gunners quickly burned through their ammo load during combat.
An XM25 and ammo weighs nearly as much as an M4 carbine with a 40mm basic grenade launcher and ammo for both weapons, and many troops were unhappy about giving up their gun for the smart grenades. Questions remained about the lethality of the weapon, even after increasing the grenade size to 25mm.
In a situation that sealed the XM25’s fate in the minds of many observers, Rangers refused to take the weapon on a 2013 raid and, when the story leaked, the high hopes for the weapon often referred to as a “game changer” began to plummet. Other reports of troops injured by XM25 malfunctions hastened the dive, and in 2017 the Army cut funding for the program. Though recommendations had been made to fully terminate the XM25, the military decided to continue engineering development for two additional years. But that extension ended in July, 2018.
This month, the Army announced that it had formally cancelled the XM25 and had negotiated a settlement with manufacturers for all designs, R&D data, and existing weapons and ammo. This means that, though currently dead in the water, the Army has everything it needs to resurrect the XM25 in the future or, perhaps more likely, to apply XM25 designs and experience to a new program. A 40mm air-bursting grenade, the XM1166 High Explosive Air Burst (HEAB) is intended to give similar performance to full-size rifle grenades fired from standard launchers.
The XM25, like the XM29 before it, was designed to revolutionize infantry combat, But, like so many other intended revolutions, it fizzled out. In part, this is because the M4 carbine, often maligned but nearly impossible to replace, keeps performing so well in the combat zone. Soldiers will always want a game-changer, but there’s a reason that they don’t give up their rifles very easily.