The US Army is about to deploy to Afghanistan a new type of high-tech gun, the ‘bullets’ for which contain chips that allow them to be guided to explode over the heads of an enemy at precise distances.
Despite sounding like a space-age weapon, the 'XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System', to give the gun its full name, is really just a logical extension of radio and laser-guidance technology that has been around for some time.
In development since 2005 by makers Heckler and Koch and bullet designer Alliant Techsystems, the XM25 fires its ammunition up to 2.3km, with the 25mm bullet targeting a concealed enemy using the gun’s laser sight.
However, the unusual bit is that the bullets works out when to explode over the heads of the enemy as an airburst by calculating the distance travelled from the number of rotations the bullet has taken after leaving the gun’s barrel. The soldier can adjust this manually by some metres.
The bullets – in truth more like small grenades or cannon shells – cost around $25 (£16) each, which sounds like a fortune until the rival options are factored in. Current anti-personnel missiles, including the powerful US Javelin missile also used by the UK - cost a reported $80,000 apiece.
The XM25 gun itself will set the Army back $25,000 each, again lower than equivalent weapons. War is sometimes high tech but it is always hugely expensive however cheap advances try to make it sound.
The gun has been in the news before but this will be its first test against a real enemy on any scale.
From past experience, ‘game-changing’ weapons such as this have a habit of turning up in the hands of the enemy once the technology has been copied sufficiently well by rival nations.
Night vision and handheld ground-to-air missiles are a good example of this, both of which were eventually used by the Taliban against US forces. The advantage offered by the XM25 could be short-lived.
Image source: US Army