The capability to engage enemy troops behind cover is useful but anything that does that and nothing else is impractical from an infantryman’s perspective and an expensive niche weapon unaffordable even by the U.S. Army.
The U.S. Army has officially terminated the “Punisher.” The XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System, or “Punisher,” was designed to engage enemy troops behind cover. While successful, the high-tech infantry weapon was the victim of a lengthy development period, ballooning costs, a perceived lack of utility and a 2013 incident that wounded a soldier carrying it.
(This first appeared earlier in the year.)
Since the dawn of the firearm age, one of the biggest obstacles to hitting people with a bullet was the cover they could hide behind. A soldier can hide inside a doorway, or windowsill, or even a bunker, exposing himself just long enough to shoot back. Getting at that soldier requires good marksmanship and timing, outmaneuvering him, or simply blowing up the building.
The XM25 was designed to make cover obsolete. The Punisher is a semi-automatic 25-millimeter grenade launcher that fires programmable grenades. The user can program grenades to fly inside the doorway and explode just inside, peppering anyone there with lethal shrapnel. It could also do the same with windows and bunkers, and can be programmed to explode above trenches and foxholes.
The XM25 saw limited active service but among the troops, it had a tepid reception. The weapon was heavy, with a basic load of the weapon and thirty-six grenades weighing a whopping 35 pounds. It was only useful under certain circumstances and was not useful at all in close combat. In 2013, a Ranger unit in Afghanistan refused to take along the weapon, preferring to take an M4 instead.
The weapon was pulled in 2013 after an incident in which a soldier was injured when the weapon tried to load two grenades at once. The weapon was redesigned and after three years the $41,000 weapon reemerged with a $93,000 price tag. That’s $90,000 more than a fully tricked out M4A1 carbine.
The U.S. Army has terminated the contract with Orbital ATK, the manufacturer, but fortunately retained the intellectual property rights and twenty of the Punisher guns. It’s not clear what the future of the tech is, but at least the army can hold onto it and use it for another project—whatever that ends up being. The capability to engage enemy troops behind cover is useful but anything that does that and nothing else is impractical from an infantryman’s perspective and an expensive niche weapon unaffordable even by the U.S. Army.
Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch.