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Judge Dredd smartshell shotguns to hit Iraq in '09

'XM-25' wireless airburst slugs hit round corners

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There would also be non-lethal options. Apart from simple baton rounds, it would also be possible to use the XM-25's precise airburst abilities to deliver "flash-bang" stun warheads exactly to the middle of a room - right through a door, wall or window.

There have also been reports and rumours that trendy fuel-air thermobaric "bunker buster" smartshells could be produced, though current US Army briefing documents (pdf) don't mention these. Thermobarics are much fancied for collapsing bunkers, tunnels and buildings, as the longer-lasting overpressure they yield is very hard on structures. The XM-25's ability to pop off its rounds dead in the middle of a target volume would certainly seem well suited to this kind of warhead, and there are already 40mm thermobarics to be had. However, the effect from a smaller 25mm version might not be enough to be useful.

All in all, then, the M-25 computer smartgunner of the future might not feel too disadvantaged among his squadmates with their rifle/grenade-launcher combos, squad-auto light machine guns, combat shotguns and suchlike. The US taxpayers might wince a little at the cost - the M-25 is priced at perhaps $25k, and each individual smartshell would be a swingeing $25. But the XM-25's advocates note that in fact a full set of fashionable optics attachments for a regular rifle costing a few hundred dollars can run to $30k, and the ammo costs wouldn't be all that big a deal in the great scheme of things. The smartgun wouldn't be for universal issue - it would be a special tool like a squad-auto machine gun or an entry shotgun. It would be issued to one or two men in a squad (section, in British usage) at most.

In a US war machine which is spending more than $300m per plane for stealth superfighters which may never see combat, a few tens of kilobucks per squad to give hard-pressed footsoldiers a better chance doesn't seem unreasonable. The Army programme managers are even suggesting that the XM-25 could lead to less civilian casualties, as it will let US troops winkle their enemies out of buildings, bunkers, urban areas and other tricky situations without resorting to massive firepower so often.

That's if it works, of course - arguably the Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle is being ignored here. The wireless smartshell fuses certainly sound as though they might be a bit prone to failure - or even to hacking or enemy meddling, perhaps. But you could always turn off all the electronics and keep on using the M-25 as an ordinary heavy rifle, shotgun or dumb grenade launcher. An enemy would have to be truly tech-savvy to make all the shells detonate in midair before they hit him, or - horrors - make them go off while still in a soldier's ammo pouches.

Meanwhile, even crazier developments are already afoot in the small-arms world. It seems that target-seeking bullets may not be that far off, for instance. And you have to like the 40mm wireless infrared video-camera surveillance projectile (pdf), which has already been available for a while.

Judge Dredd would be loving all this. ®

Bootnotes

*Though you won't be able to do so accurately: "Position and Hold must be firm enough to support the Weapon".

**Calibre is decimals of an inch, eg .45, .38, .50 etc (except that .38 is actually .357 - go figure).

***Shotgun bore diameter is measured by yet another recondite system. The number is approximately how many lead balls exactly fitting the gun barrel would weigh one pound. Brit usage is "12-bore" etc; Americans speak of "12-gauge". Ten-bore shotguns are the biggest ones commonly made nowadays. Back in black-powder times there were eight-bore and even (god save us) four or five-bore rifles. These monstrous old smoke-poles were used for such tasks as hunting elephants.

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