‘Punisher’: Shoulder-fired grenade launcher XM 25 could transform US Army

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The US Army is scheduled to introduce a new shoulder-fired grenade launching weapon that could change infantry warfare, according to its manufacturers. The next Pentagon budget provides enough funds for more than 100 of them.

The XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System (CTDE) is a semi-automatic grenade launcher that fires grenades set to explode in mid-air or near a target, peppering enemy fighters with shrapnel. The boxy-shaped weapon is equipped with a laser range finder, and a grenade can be adjusted to detonate at a range of up to 10 feet or more.

The US Army has prioritized the XM25 as its “number one materiel solution to mitigate a critical capability gap” for dismounted soldiers in combat and is officially kicking off the program in its fiscal year 2017 (FY 2017) budget request, which includes 105 of them.

“[The] army has requested $9.764 million in FY 2017 for the program and hopes for $14.852 million in FY 2018, $24.930 million in FY 2019, $32.158 million in FY 2020, and $25.798 million in FY 2021,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reported.

The semi-automatic weapon gives soldiers a 300 percent to 500 percent boost in hit probability.

“The XM25 is…designed for effectiveness against enemies protected by walls, dug into foxholes or hidden in hard-to-reach places,” according to the website of Orbital ATK, the producer of the XM25.

“The weapon features revolutionary high-explosive, airburst ammunition programmed by the weapon’s target acquisition/fire control system (TA/FC),” added the company.

The Army has already tested the XM25 in 14 months of battlefield combat in Afghanistan, where the 101st Airborne Division began field testing it in 2010, with five weapons along with 1,000 hand-made air-burst rounds, according to Military.com.

Soldiers reported that the weapon was extremely effective at killing or “neutralizing” enemy combatants firing on US troops in covered positions. Soldiers nicknamed the weapon “the Punisher,” according to Army Times. The weapons reportedly performed flawlessly with no problems, leading the Army to order 36 more.

“Many of the squads that took it on patrol did not want to give the weapon up when the trial employment was concluded,” according to a senior US military official interviewed by The Diplomat.

There were some complaints, however, about the weapon’s battery life and shooting range. In addition, some said its hefty 14 pound (6.4 kilogram) weight make it too cumbersome for the battlefield.

“Ranger units found the XM25 too heavy and cumbersome for the battlefield. They were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25 mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission,” according to Military.com.

One of the grenade launchers exploded in February of 2013 during a live-firing training event in Afghanistan. The primer and propellant ignited, but safety mechanisms prevented the round’s warhead from detonating. The weapon was inoperable after the explosion and a soldier received minor injuries. It was subsequently removed from service in Afghanistan.

The Army delayed the decision to move the XM25 into full-rate production in 2013, pending changes to the weapon’s design, ammunition, operating procedures, and training techniques.

The Senate Armed Services Committee then eliminated all funding for the system from the 2014 budget. Since October of that year, the weapon has been going through contractor validation testing in hopes of fielding it in 2017.

“The introduction of the XM25 is akin to other revolutionary systems such as the machine gun, the airplane and the tank, all of which changed battlefield tactics,” wrote an officer of the US Army’s Executive Office Soldier program in 2010.

“No longer will our Soldiers have to expose themselves by firing and maneuvering to eliminate an enemy behind cover. Our Soldiers can remain covered [and] protected and use their XM25 to neutralize an enemy in his covered position.”