Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/07/xm25_to_war_this_year_really_really/

Green Berets to get Judge Dredd computer smart-rifle

No need to shout out ammo type, though

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 7th May 2010 12:56 GMT

A radical Judge Dredd style computer smart-rifle able to strike at enemies hiding around corners is to be issued to US special forces units in Afghanistan, according to reports.

The weapon in question is of course our old friend the XM-25, long under development by the US Army's weapons boffins. The main idea of the XM-25 is to provide so-called "counter defilade" capability for ordinary foot soldiers.

You can see a video here (Warning: ActiveX controls).

This is achieved by using a heavy 25mm bullet, big enough to pack a powerful explosive warhead but small enough that a shoulder weapon of acceptable weight and recoil can shoot it a long way. (Normal 40mm launched grenades are so heavy that they have to be shot at low velocity, which means short range.)

Then, the fat 25mm shell is equipped with a precision electronic time fuse which can be set at the moment of firing by the gun's systems. The gun itself has a laser rangefinder and computing sight.

This means that a soldier aiming at a corner around which an enemy lurks can ping the corner with his rangefinder and use a button on the trigger guard to adjust for a slightly longer range. The crosshairs in the sight adjust his elevation, compensating automatically not only for range but temperature and air pressure.

As the soldier squeezes the trigger, the time fuse in the grenade-bullet is set and the round flies out on a precise trajectory towards a point just beyond the corner, where it explodes in midair spraying lethal shrapnel into the hidden enemy.

Alternatively, the XM-25 can put an exploding round through a window into the centre of a room, or above the head of a target in a trench. Accurate range is 500m, or with less accuracy the weapon can shoot as far as 700m - and as most of the work is done by the computing sight, the user doesn't need to be an expert marksman to score hits at these long ranges.

"Armour Piercing! ... Damn, I forgot there's no voice selection"

Western troops' Cold War doctrine and equipment assumed that normal infantrymen only need to be able to hit targets at a few hundred metres - anything further off would normally be dealt with by heavy weaponry of some sort. Normal US troops aren't expected to be able to score hits with their rifles much beyond 300m.

But in Afghanistan, gunfights generally take place at longer ranges than this. The Taliban make frequent use of machine guns and other longer-range weapons when attacking NATO patrols or outposts, and then melt away before air support, artillery or mortars can be called in.

"When you have something that you can set the distance where it explodes - that takes their defenses away - it's essentially like carrying a mortar tube, but it's in a rifle format and it's something that any Soldier can use," said Sergeant Christopher Shupe, lately returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. The sergeant was quoted by Military.com, during a briefing for reporters held yesterday by US Army weaponry chiefs.

It was announced at the briefing that US Army special forces - the famous Green Berets* - would be trying the XM-25 out in Afghanistan at some point this summer.

"It brings, right now, organic to the squad, the capability to defeat targets that we're seeing everyday in Afghanistan - targets that we can't currently hit," said Colonel Doug Tamilio. "It will save Soldiers' lives, because now they can take out those targets."

As opposed to as much as ten minutes to call in mortars or air support - assuming any are in range - Tamilio and his colleagues say that an XM-25 smartgunner can be raining explosive death half a kilometre off in seconds.

That's already fairly Judge Dredd, we say - shooting around corners and high-explosive bullets. But the Judge would of course never be satisfied with just one kind of ammunition.

Nor, as it turns out, are Colonel Tamilio and his colleagues. There are plans to add a wide variety of 25mm rounds for the XM-25: a shaped armour penetrator, flash-bang stun warhead, door-breaching charge. There's also to be an "anti personnel" round: in the US military that normally means an artillery shell which throws a cloud of smaller projectiles - either metal balls ("canister") or finned darts ("flechette" or "beehive"). The XM-25 version could function like a shotgun, simply throwing the shot or flechettes out of the end of the barrel for maximum closeup firepower, or it could use the gun's airburst capability and deliver a spread of projectiles at long range.

Fans of the Judge will be disappointed to note that there's neither movie-style voice activation nor manual dial selection of ammo type as in the comic. Switching to another variety of mayhem will require a boring old magazine change.

Even so it all sounds pretty snazzy, but one might note that Pentagon officials have been predicting the XM-25's imminent deployment for years now without anything actually happening. In fact the project has been around, in one form or another, for a very long time indeed: it had its birth in the Objective Infantry Combat Weapon plans of the 1990s, which would have seen an XM-25 style weapon integrated with a normal 5.56mm rifle in the style of ordinary rifle/underbarrel 40mm combinations. This turned out to be unacceptably heavy, however, so the XM-25 is now a separate weapon. Even so it weighs a mildly hefty 14lb, more than a normal rifle but in line with various other weapons carried by individual soldiers.

There's $34m of further development funding allocated for the XM-25 in 2011, reports Military.com, and production is planned to commence in 2012 - but "final decision is awaiting a program review". Each weapon is expected to cost more than $25,000 and each smartshell $25 or more.

Sergeant Shupe said he'd have loved to have an XM-25 in Afghanistan, seeming unfazed by the weight. The sergeant stated that he'd be happy to carry the smartgun as well as his standard-issue M-4 carbine. ®

Bootnote

*In the US forces a green beret signifies membership of Army Special Forces, a so-called "Tier Two" special-ops formation. Tier One are the secretive best-of-the-best: Delta Force, Team 6/DevGru and "the Activity". Tier Two outfits like the Green Berets, ordinary Navy SEALs, Rangers etc are the rest of the best, as it were.

In Blighty a green lid is the mark of the Commando forces, an elite infantry brigade rather than a special-ops unit. Nonetheless it's a lot harder to qualify as a UK commando than it is to gain nominally equivalent US status: Airborne, Air Assault etc.