STUTTGART, Germany — The combat zone just got a little more high-tech as soldiers in Afghanistan began testing and training on five prototype weapons that fire smart bullets.
Army officials are calling the XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System revolutionary since it is the first time soldiers will have a smart weapon in their hands. Smart weapons have some form of a processing unit that allows them to be self-guided or, in this case, have self-adjusting sights and programmable rounds.
The XM25 — which is not much bigger than a standard service rifle — fires 25 mm rounds that can be programmed to explode on impact, in front of or behind an object. The weapon allows soldiers to kill enemies hiding behind walls or other cover by firing above, or to the side, of the wall from up to 700 meters away.
“We call it a game changer,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner, the project manager for the XM25 with Program Executive Office Soldier. “From the dawn of direct-fire weapons, soldiers have always been taught if you’re getting shot at or something is being thrown at you, get behind cover, whether it is your shield or a wall. We are essentially taking cover away from the enemy forever with this.”
The firing process begins with the Target Acquisition Fire Control Unit — a 2x scope assembly that includes a laser range-finder and other atmospheric sensors. The laser determines the distance to the enemy, or the wall he is hiding behind. Then the unit makes adjustments to compensate for the fall of the round over distance, elevation of the target and atmospheric conditions. Within the weapon’s sight, a display shows the gunner information like distance, adjusted crosshairs and thermal night vision.
With service rifles or old grenade launchers, this firing process is done by guess work, or using handheld instruments, and making adjustments to sights manually.
“Determining range is one of the hardest things soldiers have to do in the battlefield scenario,” Lehner said.
Once the sights are set, the gunner can then decide whether to have the round explode before or after passing the target: Adjustments are made in 1 meter increments.
Microchips in a smart round receive that information and tells the round when to explode. Like the M-320 and M-203 grenade launchers, which the XM25 will likely replace in some cases, the rounds are not armed until a safe distance from the gunner.
The gunman then fires the round above or to the side of the target, and the air-bursting round explodes next to the enemy with about the same kill radius as a hand grenade.
That sounds like a lot of stuff going on, but gunners are able to complete that entire process within five seconds, Lehner said.
“Our soldiers are used to electronic type of gaming and it is actually not very hard for them to adjust to a sight system that is high-tech but not very hard to operate.”
The weapon is being tested by 101st Airborne Division troops in Afghanistan. A division spokesman in Afghanistan referred questions about the testing back to PEO Soldier officials. They said they would not provide the exact location and unit with the prototype due to security concerns.
The Army plans on purchasing more than 12,500 XM25 systems at about $25,000 to 35,000 apiece starting in 2012, which will be enough to put one in each of the Army’s infantry squads and Special Forces teams, according to Lehner.
Future smart rounds are being developed to pierce armor, breach doors with a bigger, fragmentless explosion, and possibly carry tear gas.