'Nowhere to Hide': U.S. Army Testing New 'Smart' Weapons in Afghanistan

PHOTO A soldier tests the new, high-tech XM-25 on a U.S. base. Five of the weapons have been shipped to Afghanistan to be tested in combat.
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Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, a handful of U.S. soldiers have a new weapon in hand, a lethal combination of technology and explosives that the Army has called a "game changer."

Looking like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie, the XM-25 fires highly specialized rounds that can be programmed to explode at the precise location where the enemy is hiding behind cover.

Consider it a beefed up take on the old adage "boys and their toys."

Five of the high-tech, semi-automatic weapons arrived in the war-torn country this month and soon will be tested in combat.

"This weapon makes our forces more lethal, it makes them more effective and it keeps them safer," said Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner, the project manager for individual weapons at Program Executive Office Soldier, which developed the XM-25. "This is the first time that we've put smart technology in the weapons system for the individual soldier."

Though the XM-25 has tested well in the United States, military brass will be watching the weapon's performance in real-life combat to assess not only how well it performs, but also what weapons it might end up replacing.

Soldiers currently up against insurgents ducking for cover behind fortified walls have little choice but either to fire highly explosive 40mm grenades or mortar rounds, which are effective, but often inaccurate, or to leave their own cover and maneuver to fire direct shots, which puts American lives at risk.

Enter the XM-25.

"We're talking about seconds to neutralize the enemy, versus minutes," Lehner said.

Crouching behind his own cover, a U.S. soldier armed with the XM-25 can point his weapon at the wall behind which the enemy is hiding to get the precise distance. The rounds, which come four to a magazine plus one in the chamber, can then be programmed to travel just a short distance behind that to explode precisely where the insurgent is believed to be hiding.

With the scope aimed at the top of the wall, the round will fire and explode before impact, at the precise location programmed by the soldier, raining a hail of explosives and fragments on to the enemy.

It all takes mere seconds -- five to program and fire, two for travel.

The rounds also take into account air pressure and temperature to accurately hit their marks.

"Our soldiers can stay behind cover and shoot this weapon at the enemy who's behind cover and we can take him out," Lehner said. "But they can't take us out because we're behind cover and they don't have this weapon."

Analyst Praises XM-25, but Questions Whether It's Enough

The precision also has the potential to go a long way to soothe politics between the military and the Afghanistan government, which has come down on U.S. forces for what it says is a high number of unnecessary civilian casualties.

"With all the latest political pressures with the Afghanistan government placing on our soldiers and our tactics we use ... this helps them to eliminate the problems we're seeing down range," Lehner said, citing airstrikes with a lot of collateral damage as a sore spot for the Afghans.

The first five XM-25s arrived in Afghanistan earlier this month and have been tested on a range there. The rounds arrived on Tuesday.

Lehner said the weapons will be in combat within days, before the end of the month, though he declined to reveal exactly where they would be used.

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