Dodging enemy gunfire in close-quarter urban combat, seeking to destroy enemy fighters hiding behind walls, rocks and trees and firing ammunition especially engineered to explode at a particular, pre-planned point in space – comprise the highly sought-after advantages of the Army's XM25 "airburst" weapon.
However, despite the initial promise of prototypes of the technology in combat in Afghanistan as an emerging way to bring a decisive advantage to soldiers in a firefight, the future of the XM25 is now uncertain due to ongoing Army needs, requirements, weapons inventory assessments, and budget considerations, service officials told Scout Warrior.
The Army's XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement airburst weapon system, in development for several years, was used to destroy Taliban fighters hiding behind grape-growing walls in Afghanistan during a Forward Operational Assessment of the weapon several years ago. Extensive analysis and adjustments to the weapon followed this operational combat evaluation, Army officials explained.
An XM25 airburst grenade launcher in July 2009. | US Army photo
Part of the calculus regarding a production decision about the weapon relates to the possibility of the weapon "misfiring," several news reports said. Army officials did not comment on this, however a 2015 news report in the Economist said a US soldier was slightly injured during training with the XM 25 when it misfired. It does now, nonetheless, appear as though this problem was pervasive or persistent with the weapon - but it could be a factor amidst ongoing plans for the weapon's future.
Army and Pentagon weapons developers and budget planners are now deliberating plans for the weapon, which could be formally produced and deployed within the next several years – or passed over due to fiscal constraints.
While the XM25 would clearly be useful in a major force-on-force engagement or great power conflict, airburst attacks have particular value in a counterinsurgency type-fight wherein enemies seek to use terrain, building, rocks, ditches or trees to protect themselves from being targeted.
US Army photo
By attacking with an "airburst" round, soldiers do not have to have a linear view or direct line of sight to an enemy target; if they know an enemy is behind a rock or tree (in defilade) – the weapon can explode above or near the location to ensure the target is destroyed.
The weapon uses laser-rangefinder technology to fire a high-explosive airburst round capable of detonating at a specific point near an enemy target hidden or otherwise obscured by terrain or other obstacles, Army developers have explained.
Program managers had been seeking to expedite development of the system, refine and improve the technology, and ultimately begin formal production by the fall of 2014, however its current trajectory is now unclear.
"The XM25 brings a new capability to the soldier for the counter-defilade fight, allowing him to be able to engage enemy combatants behind walls, behind trees or in buildings," former XM25 program manager Col. Scott Armstrong previously explained in an Army statement.