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 .
The gun's stats are formidable: it fires 25mm air-bursting shells up to 2,300 feet (700 meters), well past the range of most rifles used by today's soldiers, and programs them to explode at a precise distance, allowing troops to neutralize insurgents hiding behind walls, rocks or trenches or inside buildings.
The revolutionary advance involves an array of sights, sensors and lasers that reads the distance to the target, assesses elements such as air pressure, temperature, and ballistics and then sends that data to the microchip embedded in the XM25 shell before it is launched.
Previous grenade launchers needed to arc their shells over cover and land near the target to be effective.
"It takes out a lot of the variables that soldiers have to contemplate and even guess at," said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Lehner, program manager for the .
If, for example, an enemy combatant pops up from behind a wall to fire at US troops and then ducks behind it, an XM25 gunner can aim the at the top of the wall, then program the shell to detonate one meter beyond it, showering lethal fragmentation where the insurgent is seeking cover.
Use of the XM25 can slash civilian deaths and damage, the Army argues, because its pinpointed firepower offers far less risk than larger mortars or air strikes.
The result, the Army says, is "very limited collateral damage."
The Pentagon plans to purchase at least 12,500 of the guns -- at a price tag of 25,000 to 30,000 dollars each -- beginning next year, enough for one in each Infantry squad and .
Lehner said the XM25 was special in that it requires comparatively little training, because the high-powered technology does so much of the work.
"This system is turning soldiers with average shooting skills into those with phenomenal shooting skills,"