The weapon system promised to take out enemy soldiers hidden behind defilades. Even though it went through operational testing in Afghanistan, the Army ultimately decided to give it the ax.
The ‘Punisher’ That Didn’t Punish
The U.S. Army had high hopes for the XM25, a bullpup grenade launcher that fired small, 25mm airburst grenade ammunition. Using a laser rangefinder, the XM25 would have been able to fire grenades in mid-air near targets that were around corners or behind a defilade or cover.
Not only that, but the XM25 had a much farther range: the M203 grenade launcher, the standard under-barrel rifle grenade launcher, has a maximum range of about 350 meters, whereas the XM25’s maximum range against an area target was 700 meters.
The XM25 actually went through in-the-field soldier testing with U.S. Army Soldiers in Afghanistan to mixed reception. Some soldiers reportedly appreciated the new capabilities offered by the airburst grenade launcher, though it also sustained criticism due to the weapon’s weight.
Despite the potential advantages the XM25 held over its rivals, however, there were a few problems.
Though the weapon system did offer some range advantages and increase lethality against indirect targets, it was heavy, tipping the scales at 14 pounds, unloaded. Due to the weapon’s high weight point, it became difficult for individual soldiers to carry both the XM25 and a carbine, forcing a decision between the two.
But the XM25 suffered from other problems too, besides just weight.
The first item in a litany of problems was cost — the experimental weapon was expensive. Per-unit costs were astronomical, ranging from $30,000 to $35,000. In addition, the experimental weapon’s ammunition was hand-made and cost about $1,000 per round.
Another mark against the XM25 was the grenade launcher’s more limited ability to lay down suppressive fire. Compared to larger 40mm grenades, the XM25’s much smaller 25mm grenade launchers generated significantly less explosive force.
In early 2013, the XM25 suffered a misfire during a live-fire training event. Although nobody was seriously injured during the accident, the hiccup severely damaged confidence in the system. The mistake was apparently caused by a misfeed, which caused the projectile’s propellant to explode, though the explosive 25mm warhead remained intact.
Following the accidental misfeed snafu, the Army decided to pull all XM25s from combat, pending further testing.
Ultimately the XM25 was an unmitigated disaster. Instead of relying on the relatively small — but heavy and unreliable system that shot 25mm ammunition, the Army instead opted to retain the much larger Carl Gustav recoilless rifle that fires 84mm ammunition.
In 2018 the XM25 program came to an inglorious end, officially canceled by the United States Army.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.