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XM25 'Super Rifle' -- The Pentagon's Latest Toy That Won't Do Anything to Avoid Disaster in Afghanistan

Introducing the new super-weapon that will change absolutely nothing about why we're losing in Afghanistan.

If you didn’t know better, you’d get all excited reading about the Army’s new shoulder-fired cannon, the XM-25. It’s being hyped as a “game-changing” weapon that will literally blow the Taliban out of their hiding places and turn the tide in Afghanistan.

The XM25 is the kind of weapon a kid likes to dream about. It’s basically a “smart,” user-friendly shoulder-fired grenade launcher. It shoots 25mm fragmentation grenades that explode at a pre-set distance. And you don’t need to be a math prof to calculate the distance; the weapon talks to itself, the laser sight basically telling the round when it has to explode.

So suppose I’m a soldier trying to deal with a sniper firing from behind a window in an Iraqi city, or popping up from behind some adobe wall, irrigation ditch or boulder in  Afghanistan. In that situation you could blast away all day with a pure line-of-sight weapon like a typical automatic rifle, and you’d just make a lot of dust without hitting anybody.

What you need in a situation like that—and it’s a very common situation in war, especially urban or mountain war, and we’re fighting both at the moment—is a weapon that can kill an enemy who’s behind cover. If we were fighting in a wood-frame battlefield, like say an American suburb, you wouldn’t need to worry about this so much, because American walls and doors are very thin and most modern rifle rounds will go right through them. But Iraqi and Afghan houses are built of thick mud or concrete. They make pretty good cover for a sniper.

So instead of trying to shoot through the wall, you want to get an air burst of some kind through the window, or over the boulder or whatever it is the enemy’s behind.  There are all kinds of ways to do that, and most of them involve lobbing an explosive round over the wall. Armies have been doing this for centuries. A catapult is designed to handle an enemy behind a wall, by lobbing its load over the wall into the enemy town. A siege mortar is designed to lob a shell over a fort’s walls into the enemy’s ranks. A hand grenade can be lobbed the same way at short range, and for longer range you could use the U.S. Army’s standard grenade launcher, the M203.

You’ll notice all these are small arms, very “light” weapons in military terms. When a first-world army wants to wipe out an enemy city without taking casualties themselves, they just call in the artillery, like the Russians did in Grozny in Chechnya, or air strikes like we did in Fallujah. If these first-world armies really wanted to use their full firepower, they could just nuke whole Afghan mountains or Iraqi cities.

But they don’t. That’s not what this generation of warfare is usually like. These are colonial wars, like the ones the British fought on the same territories, Iraq and Southern Afghanistan, and like the Brits we’re fighting them at a low level, basically small arms. So what you want is a small arm (a weapon that can be carried and fired by one or two soldiers) with the firepower of artillery. That’s what the XM25 is supposed to provide. It looks like a stubby shotgun, which it is, basically. What separates it from your home-defense 12-gauge is the rounds it fires and the aiming system. The standard round is an explosive 25mm shell. When it explodes, it sprays deadly metal strips in a room-sized sphere pattern. If you’re in a room where one detonates, you’re dead.

Of course that wouldn’t mean much if those shells just hit the adobe wall or boulder where the sniper’s hiding, it wouldn’t have much effect. That’s where the laser sight and computer ranging come into play. The XM25’s laser sight measures the distance to the target and lets the soldier set his rounds to explode before, on, or (most likely) behind the target. So, if you’re trying to kill a sniper in an Iraqi house, you set the shells to explode one meter inside the window. The sniper (and anybody else in the room) gets riddled with white-hot metal fragments. If you’re dealing with a half-dozen Taliban firing from behind an irrigation ditch at a patrol that’s just left their village, you set the 25 mm rounds to burst above and behind them. Even if they’re well-shielded from direct fire, they’re dead.

That’s the hype, anyway, the story being peddled by media whores like Rick Sanchez, who did a gee-whiz story on the XM25 a while back.

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