Economist Magazine provides a report on the successful use of the XM25 in Afghanistan. US soldiers are giving the XM25 rave reviews. Besides being a smart gun able to hit enemy who are behind cover, the XM25 has twice the range of an AK47. The successful technology is being adapted for larger guns like artillery. Prices will drop to $25 per XM25 bullet and it is already far cheaper than an airstrike and more accurate with less collaterol damage than mortars and other alternatives.
A handful of XM25s are now being tested in Afghanistan by the Americans. So far, they have been used on more than 200 occasions. Most of these fights ended quickly, and in America’s favour, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Lucas, who is in charge of the weapon’s field-testing programme. Indeed, the programme has been so successful that the army has ordered 36 more of the new rifles.
Each rifle bullet is programmed, before it is fired, by a second computer in the rifle itself. To determine the distance to the target, the gunman shines a laser rangefinder attached to the rifle at whatever is shielding the enemy. If that enemy is in a ditch, a nearby object—a tree trunk behind or to the side of the ditch, perhaps—will do
When the round is fired, the internal computer counts the number of rotations it makes, to calculate the distance flown. The rifle’s muzzle velocity is 210 metres a second, which is the starting point for the calculation. When the computer calculates that the round has flown the requisite distance, it issues the instruction to detonate. The explosion creates a burst of shrapnel that is lethal within a radius of several metres (exact details are classified). And the whole process takes less than five seconds.
Just how the turn-counting fuse works is an even more closely guarded secret than the lethal radius—though judging by the number of failed attempts to hack into computers that might be expected to hold information about it, many people would dearly like to know. Certainly, the trick is not easy. An alternative design developed in South Korea, which clocks flight time rather than number of rotations, seems plagued by problems. Last year South Korea’s Agency of Defence Development halted production of trial versions of the K-11, as this rifle is called, and announced a redesign, following serious malfunctions.
Several European countries are planning to buy the XM25, some of them, including Germany, are working on weapons that operate in the same way, but fire 40mm rounds. Such bullets are easier (and less expensive) to make than 25mm rounds. But starting with a smaller design increases the usefulness of the technology. It is easier to enlarge components than to shrink them, so the XM25 bullet design could, without too much trouble, be made to fit ammunition intended for weapons with larger-bore barrels. ATK has already begun modifying the technology to fit in the shells fired by marine-corps artillery pieces, according to Jeff Janey, the firm’s vice-president of business development.
An XM25 with a thermal sight and a four-round magazine is reckoned by informed observers of the field to cost about $35,000. The bullets, which have to be made by hand at the moment, clock in at several hundred dollars each. But the price of a bullet could fall to as low as $25 when ATK switches to automated production. And even at its current price, both gun and ammunition compare favourably with alternative methods of dealing with dug-in gunmen.