Two different stories were making the rounds about the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement system — AKA the 25mm smart grenade launcher — recently. One says it’s cancelled and the other says it’s about to be generally fielded: about as far apart as two tales can get.
Story 1: it has been canc’d due to a February accident.
This is partially true. There was a mishap in which there was a double feed and that caused a primer initiation with the gun out of battery. The soldier was injured, gun destroyed. The Army pulled them all back from theater in early March and sent them back to the manufacturer, ATK (H&K and L3/IOS Brashear have also taken part in system development). The reason for doing this this was: an accident like that was supposed to be impossible, therefore they need to inspect all fielded XM25s. There were, if we recall correctly, three double feed incidents but in only this one was the GI injured (not very seriously), and in one previous one the primer and propellant fired out of battery, destroying the gun with no injuries to the GI. The February mishap happened on a training range in Afghanistan.
Prior to the accident, the gun was popular with the troops that carried it. It was hard to point to a specific combat success or even identify a single Talib whacked by it, but its capabilities have been used for suppression and to permit small patrols to break contact and continue mission. The guy who carries the XM25 carries it as his main weapon, giving up his carbine for the exotic ability to put airbursts on defiladed targets in direct fire more rapidly and precisely than mortars can.
This led to the Senate Armed Services Committee, controlled by anti-military liberals, to zero out the gun’s future budgets in a vote which made a big splash of news in June. Here’s the press release from Carl Levin, the thoroughly anti-soldier committee chair, about the wonders of this committee mark-up. And here’s what he says about the XM25, which he calls a “troubled or unnecessary program,” in it.
Cuts $69.1 million in procurement for the XM25, Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) due to system unreliability and an Army decision to reconsider other weapons available to meet its requirement for a grenade launcher system that can fire programmable air burst munitions.
Frank Gaffney saw Levin’s intentions in 2009:
The anti-military chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, has gleefully announced that he intends to strip funds for weapon systems from the budget. Likely consequence: the armed services will be unable either properly to “reset” the equipment and capabilities that have been used so intensively over the past seven years or be prepared for the next conflict. History teaches that such a posture invites foreign aggression and costs far more than is saved through short-term and short-sighted cuts.
Well, Levin is who he has always been. Can’t change that. And our democratic processes have put him in the driver’s seat on the Senate side of the military budget. So expect things to be cancelled and money to be redirected to redistributive activities. Can’t change that, either.
But this cancellation is not all that it appears. Note that, due to the snags attendant to the mishap and its investigation and any required design remediation, production in FY 14 wasn’t going to happen anyway. So this is a kind of typical Washington sham cut. Funding for RDT&E is still in place.
Thanks to Levin’s cut, there have been numerous news stories in the general and trade press — some of them just this month — declaring the gun dead. (We’re told one was in the dead-tree Aviation Week, but we can’t find it online. But the budget is far from finished, the Senate is only one house of a bicameral legislature, and who knows what strange chaos will come out of the inevitable conference committee. After all, it’s not like any of these guys are any good at budgeting.
Story 2: It’s about to go to general issue.
Now recently, the story has burbled up that the XM25′s type classification and general production and fielding was imminent. Like the above story, it’s partially true. Here’s an example of this story at The Firearm Blog, which was a snippet of a much more comprehensive article at SOFREP. And here’s a similar one at Defense Tech, and one at Military.com.
All of those stories (and a number of their clones) are rewrites of an Army press release from 9 Aug 13, that the original writers did not link to for whatever reason. (TFB actually excerpted and linked the SOFREP article, which seems to have gotten the PR through the military.com rewrite, but added lots of SOFREP’s own content). Here is the Army release so you can read it yourself, rather than us too rewriting and inadvertently transmogrifying it somehow.
Our take on it is a little different than these other respected journalists and bloggers, after going back to the Army release.
The Army said something rather different from “imminent”. They said that a year from now they may be able to go to LRIP and produce 1,100 of these things and field them to infantry and SOF. The combat units would not have them until 2015. The Army press release was 9th August, and is clearly the source for the Military.com and Defense Tech posts (they both use the quotes and attributions in the release).
So what we have here, with the best intentions, is a kind of journalistic game of Telephone with the message getting distorted a little as it’s passed along.
Low Rate Initial Production is essentially a production shakedown phase. Right now, the XM25s have been built by hand, and each very short run of prototypes has been different than the one before as both the gun and ammo makers & system integrators, ATK, and the electro-optic system makers, L3, respond to troop surveys and comments, and react to incidents, deficiencies, and maintenance difficulties. It’s one thing to make a gun in the lab, something else to make something your techs can take to the flat range and shoot, and then it’s a whole new world of hard to make something you can issue to your median Army rifleman. (Especially if your intent is to issue it to the next 11B when this one turns it in).
XM25 at a technology display.
As you might imagine, being gun guys, something crafted individually by hand is crazily more expensive than something built in series production, even if the whole process is distorted by the cost-plus inflation escalators built into defense procurement regulations. So one reason the Army wants to move this along towards production is to make it “affordable”: which in this case means $35k for a gun and $55 per round. The current costs are more like mid six figures per gun and four figures per round, but then, there have never been more than a dozen or so of these hand-crafted prototypes in the field so far.
So for several reasons, LRIP is a big step up from hand-crafted prototype guns and craft-brewed ammo. At that point, you know the GI isn’t going to break it by looking at it, you’ve got the identified failure modes out of it, and you have a design that’s stable enough you can commit to producing hundreds or a thousand of. They’re not saying they’re at this point now, but they say they expect to be at this point in a year, in August 2014, which means the LRIP will happen mostly in the 2015 budget (which kicks off 1 Oct 2014). The budget the Senate is grandstanding over is the 2014 budget, which runs from 1 Oct 2013 to 30 Sep 2014.
The Army brass sniffs a little at the soldiers’ nickname for the gun: the Punisher. So who’s out of touch here, the guys who carry the thing and hope to punish the enemy with it, or the deskbound officers that fret that “punish” connotes images too atavistic for “staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their general’s bowel movements or their colonel’s piles….”
One more thing…
We would call attention to one more thing that has not been highlighted in the other stories: the XM25 is back in action in Afghanistan, with the Army reporting five guns in the field.