The Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker has a particularly memorable scene involving a standoff between an American sharpshooter and an Iraqi insurgent, where both have each other pinned down behind cover. The American sharpshooter wins the standoff — but doesn’t realize it for hours, only moving after it becomes clear that the insurgent died from a well-aimed shot earlier in the day. Imagine the same scene, but with a weapon that can actually find a target behind cover and detonate without air or artillery support, and what that would mean for US forces engaged in urban or guerilla warfare.
Actually, we don’t have to imagine it. The XM-25 has been deployed to Afghanistan, where infantry units call it a “gamechanger“:
It looks and acts like something best left in the hands of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo,” but this latest dream weapon is real — and the US Army sees it becoming the Taliban’s worst nightmare.
The Pentagon has rolled out prototypes of its first-ever programmable “smart” grenade launcher, a shoulder-fired weapon that uses microchipped ammunition to target and kill the enemy, even when the enemy is hidden behind walls or other cover.
After years of development, the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System, about the size of a regular rifle, has now been deployed to US units on the battlefields of Afghanistan, where the Army expects it to be a “game-changer” in its counterinsurgencyoperations.
“For well over a week, it’s been actively on patrols, and in various combat outposts in areas that are hot,” said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Lehner, program manager for the XM25.
CNN reported on the weapon almost a year ago, when the Pentagon still had it in tests. Watch this video report from former CNN reporter Rick Sanchez to get an idea of what this weapon can do, both for US forces and for innocent civilians in the immediate area of gunfire:
This report worries about the problem of the weapon falling into the wrong hands, but that’s more or less the problem with all new weapons systems. As soon as they get deployed, they will fall into enemy hands when the enemy manages to win a skirmish and capture one or more of them. A bigger problem will be the knock-offs created by other nations once they learn the design. Eventually, the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and others will have their own versions and put them up for sale, most likely as a result of US arms sales to our allies, and then the weapons will be available to terrorists and “freedom fighters” in every corner of the world. The only way to prevent that is to stop designing weapons systems, which is hardly realistic.
The larger problem will be the adaptations this forces onto the Taliban in Afghanistan and other such insurgencies in future wars. This makes a stand-up fight even more suicidal than it is now. Instead of being able to hit forces under cover at 500 yards, there simply won’t be any significant targets at all. The enemy will likely resort to IEDs almost exclusively, with an occasional and relatively massive frontal assault on smaller fortifications to attempt to hold ground. That will degrade the Taliban’s ability to control territory, but in the end perhaps save more of their fighters from certain death and extend their ability to fight in a much more limited fashion.
With some luck, the sheer hopelessness of an IED war will convince most of the Taliban fighters to lay down their arms before an XM-25 round finds their rock first. It’s a great weapon and a gamechanger, but it may not be a war-ender.