The keen reader may accuse me of cheating here, since the XM-25 is still, well, experimental. To that reader I would say that the US Army has placed an order for a lot of the damned things, which is close enough for government work. And this stupid “wondergun” is in dire need of killing. Let’s talk a little bit about the history, and then see why I think it should get taken out with the trash.
The XM-25 is an outgrowth of the failed XM29 OICW. The OICW was an attempt to increase the lethality of the infantryman by combining a short-barreled1 5.56 carbine with a detachable box magazine fed 20mm airburst grenade launcher. Sort of a next-generation M4/M203 combo. Of course, there were many problems. The resulting weapon was bulky, expensive, and heavy. Loaded, it weighs 8.2 kg, or a trifle over 18 pounds, if you live in a country that’s put men on the moon. This is about as much as a BAR weighed, and is absolutely ridiculous for a non-support weapon. This is not a weapon that is going to allow you to assault alongside your M4-equipped squadmates. What’s even worse is that it didn’t work.
More specifically, 20mm airburst grenades weren’t meeting lethality requirements. Duh. They were tiny. There’s only so much explosive content you can pack in there. Not enough explosive, and the system was already stupidly overweight. In a burst of wisdom at the Pentagon, the XM29 program was cancelled. But the wisdom didn’t last and the two components were split into new weapons.
I’m going to take a brief moment to talk about the XM8, which still has its fanboys, despite looking like a fish. This was the 5.56 carbine portion of the XM29. But there were problems. Every other gunmaker cried foul at this becoming the new carbine of choice without a competition. And they were right, though they needn’t have worried. The XM8 was crap. Garbage. It was significantly heavier than the M4 that it was supposed to replace, fundamentally is no more lethal since it was still a 14.5″-barreled 5.56mm carbine, was compatible with exactly zero accessories currently in the US Army inventory because it somehow had no picatinny rails, and had a tendency to melt under sustained fire. Since it had no picatinny rails, it was wedded to a brand new optic that was supposed to be a magnified red dot with laser sight, which also had problems. The XM8 was also cancelled, much to the chagrin of HK fanbois and M4 haterz everywhere. Good riddance to a lousy gun.
The XM25 is the split off grenade launcher portion, now it’s own weapon. In an effort to increase lethality, the caliber was increased to 25mm. Spoiler alert: they still don’t have the sort of lethality they want. It’s got plenty of shock value, but that mostly comes from the fact that it’s a bang near your head. I am aware of exactly zero confirmed kills for the XM25 on deployment in Afghanistan. Ze-ro. None. Nada. Yeah, it’s a “game changer”.
But wait, it gets worse. The XM25 weighs 14 lbs. (6.4 kg), costs $35,000 a unit2, and fires rounds that cost $55 a piece. It still uses a detachable box magazine, but that magazine only holds five rounds. So a soldier’s individual load is tiny. Also, note that standard doctrine for IFVs with airburst autocannons is to fire a burst of three to five rounds to neutralize an enemy position. That’s basically a magload, and those rounds are bigger (and hold more HE, duh) than the rounds on the XM-25. We’ll never see great lethality out of this system, and it means taking a carbine (or two!) out of the squad.
We’re already back in the land of small professional armies rather than big conscript ones. Infantry are scarce, and taking the always-useful rifles out for a heavy system with a small combat load of carried rounds that is only sometimes useful is a bad idea. We need all the riflemen we can find. Even though our riflemen are much more effective man-for-man than their grandfathers in the Second World War thanks to optics, modern carbines, night vision equipment, and ceramic body armor, each man can only engage one point or area target at a time. We don’t need to cram more support weapons into an eight or nine man infantry squad, and we certainly shouldn’t issue such limited-persistence things as the XM-25 generally. It can’t replace the M4/M203 combo, since that still lets you bring a carbine to the close fight.
We also shouldn’t bother issuing them at higher levels (e.g. at the platoon level). At this level, we’re competing with proven weapon systems: mortars. In terms of support systems, a 60mm mortar is better in every possible way than the XM25. It’s significantly cheaper, can be broken into smaller loads and distributed so that light infantrymen can carry it and still have carbines for close-in fighting, and has larger, more effective rounds. It does require some training, but what weapon system doesn’t.3 Mortars work, and provide better range and true indirect-fire capability. What’s not to like?
On the other hand, that XM25 has also had consistent development problems, and it eats batteries. More logistics burden, hooray. It’s also seriously injured at least one tester in a nasty malfunction. This system is not ready for prime time. It needs to go. Somebody call the NKVD, see if we can get someone over here to give this thing a quick show-trial and a bullet in the back of the head.
So there you have it. Don’t bother with a new, expensive, heavy system that doesn’t work. Buy proven systems, like mortars, and save!
1.) About 9 inches long, which is pretty darn short.
2.) Supposedly this is after cost savings in production. Supposedly. It’s still too damn much.
3.) Yes, the XM25 also requires training. Duh.
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Your assessment on the XM8 is a bit off. Yes functionally it offered nothing over the M4A1 but it still had the potential to be a fine weapon once the bugs were worked out. The overblown “melting” issue could be corrected easily enough. PCAP which it used for attachments had a lot of advantages, there was also the option for a Picatinny rail adapter but the Army planned new attachments for the XM8. In some ways PCAP was a predecessor to newer attachment systems like M-LOK and Keymod.
I don’t think we can say for sure the XM25 wasn’t lethal enough. How many accounts of the weapon were released to the public? Just one at a long range I think and the Taliban retreated taking any WIA or KIA with them. The reasons surrounding its apparent demise are a bit unclear but there seems to have been a lot of issues over the contract. If it could be made to work and the price brought down somewhat I think there is a place in a full squad for one, but no more than that.