The US Army has confirmed plans to equip every infantry squad and special-forces team by 2014 with an XM-25 Judge Dredd style computer smartgun able to hit enemies hiding around corners or behind rocks etc.
A trench won't do it nowadays.
The XM-25 has been widely covered in the media recently, despite the fact that the last piece of actual news regarding the futuristic weapon - that it would at long last be put in the hands of US combat troops, in Afghanistan - came back in October, as we here on the Reg crazy-guns desk reported at the time (getting the tip from the Soldier Systems blog). However we also mentioned it about six weeks later in our widely-read Thanksgiving crazy-guns-o-the-future feature - and shortly thereafter the XM-25's Afghan deployment decision was in all the mainstream outlets as "news".
Anyway, pleasingly the media attention has prompted the people at the US Army's Program Executive Office - Soldier, in charge of the XM-25, to issue a clarification in which they enlarge somewhat on plans for the future.
According to PEO Soldier:
• Prototypes arrived in theater in Afghanistan in November.
• 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...
• The next phase for the XM25 program is to build a large quantity of production representative weapons and ammunition in 2011 to deploy into Afghanistan for further combat assessments.
• Finally, with testing complete and Army approvals in place, 12,500 systems will be produced and issued beginning in early 2014 – enough to support one per infantry squad and Special Forces Team.
Presumably the XM-25 will lose its "X" (experimental) designator at some point to become the M-25 in line service.
As regular readers will be well aware, the XM-25 shoots special, fat 25mm projectiles rather like a cross between ordinary rifle bullets and 40mm launched grenades. But the XM-25 rounds have an added special sauce: an extremely accurate time fuse which is set electronically by the gun's systems at the moment of firing, permitting them to explode in midair at a precise distance from the muzzle.
The XM-25's computing sight features an accurate rangefinding laser and corrects automatically for such variables as air temperature and pressure. This means that a user can ping a target feature - for instance a boulder behind which an enemy lurks - with the laser, then select an additional metre or two of range using a thumb control and raise his point of aim slightly.
The 25mm smartshell will thus fly over the boulder and explode just above the hidden enemy's head, spraying him with deadly shrapnel. The same capability can be used to make rounds travel through shrubbery, windows, bunker entrances etc before exploding just where the user wants. And the XM-25 has a good bit more range than the M-4 carbines commonly carried by US troops, too, which should make it useful in the longer-distance gunfights often seen nowadays in Afghanistan.
Apart from the basic airburst shrapnel round, there are plans to produce various other specialist 25mm cartridges. PEO Soldier documents have mentioned an armour piercing variant - presumably intended for impact rather than airburst, and using a shaped-charge warhead - and non-lethal both airbursting and blunt. The airburst non-lethal would be a smaller version of the "flash bang" stun grenades popular with special-ops and police SWAT teams in hostage situations, and the blunt version a more ordinary plastic or rubber bullet.
Previously PEO Soldier had suggested that there might be some kind of shot or flechette round also, either scattering a cloud of small projectiles straight out of the end of the barrel like an everyday shotgun or CAWS - or airbursting downrange to deliver a pattern onto a selected area like a miniature artillery "beehive" shell. However, this is no longer mentioned in the latest version of the XM-25 factsheet.
Regular readers will also know that the imminent appearance of the amazing airburst computer-rifle has been predicted ever since the early 1990s, when it made its debut as part of the Objective Infantry Combat Weapon multishooter. But it is now, at last, in combat for real: so PEO Soldier's vision of a US Army with an XM-25 smartgunner in every squad or A-team* may in fact come true beginning in 2014 as planned.
One does note, though, that just last year the date of initial mass issue was supposed to be 2012. ®
*The basic unit of the US Army Special Forces, aka Green Berets, nominally consisting of 12 men who sometimes split into two units of six. Presumably an A-team might have two XM-25s rather than one - or any other weapons it fancied, within reason.