A futuristic weapon that allows troops to hit targets hiding behind walls will soon be in the hands of more Special Forces and infantrymen on foreign battlefields, despite an accident this year that wounded a soldier.
The Pentagon's most recent budget proposal included $69 million to purchase more than 1,400 of the so-called XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement Systems – what soldiers who've tested it in combat dub "The Punisher."
The XM25 allows soldiers to fire at an enemy fighter that has concealed himself, such as in a trench or behind a wall ("in defilade"). Soldiers can determine the precise distance to the target with a specially designed scope attached to the rifle, then an internal computer programs a specialized round. Upon making a final manual adjustment, the soldier fires the round which detonates directly over the target, exploding shrapnel straight down.
CNN spoke with Army Col. Doug Tamilio in 2009 who demonstrated precisely how the weapon works.
"The XM25 makes soldiers a more lethal force on the battlefield, enhancing their effectiveness and safety," Army spokesman Dov Schwartz tells U.S. News. "The system reduces the need for infantry soldiers to maneuver and expose themselves in order to flush out an enemy behind cover."
The rifle is made primarily by Arlington, Va.-based company ATK. A spokesman referred all requests for comment to the U.S. Army.
The Army completed 18 months of assessments in 2011 and 2012 with the new weapon. Two units with the 101st Airborne brought the inaugural XM25s into Afghanistan for the field tests, and killed two enemy fighters after getting in to 10 engagements, according to a February 2011 report from Military.com.
The Army will have a total of 10,876 units if the most recent budget request is approved. It plans to issue two XM25s per Infantry squad and one per Special Forces team as a part of the Army's continued developmental process.
The U.S. planned drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014 leaves the Army unsure about its future. A part of its new strategy is to focus on "the soldier and the squad," says Schwartz.
"The Army is committed to providing Soldiers with a counter defilade capability at the squad level," he says. "XM25 airburst weapon systems are effective in any environment. Programmable airburst munitions can defeat an enemy behind cover to break the parity of direct-fire, small-arms engagements.
The future of the XM25 appeared shaky in February, when one of the rifles exploded during a live-fire training event, wounding the soldier who was firing it. The Army subsequently removed it from service, reports MiltaryTimes.com.
An analysis determined an "improper cycling sequence" caused the explosion, where one round misfired and caused another to ignite.
"The XM25 is now undergoing an additional comprehensive safety assessment to identify the risk of any other possible safety malfunctions," says Schwartz. "The program will require additional time to incorporate and test the recommended corrective actions."
The Army has subsequently delayed the decision that would move the weapon into full production, pending changes to the design of the weapon and its ammunition, and to the operation procedures and training techniques.
Testing continues on the XM25 at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland and at ATK test facilities. Developers have incorporated almost 130 different design improvements, Schwartz says.