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Investigators to Army: Consider Canceling Troubled Airburst Weapon

A soldier aims an XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement weapon system at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. Army photo
A soldier aims an XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement weapon system at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. Army photo

After two years of delays, increased program costs and an unjustified fielding plan, the U.S. Army should consider canceling the shoulder-fired 25mm airburst weapon, investigators say.

The service's XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System is a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon that fires 25mm high-explosive, air-bursting ammunition. It features a target acquisition/fire control system that allows soldiers to identify a target, determine the range and program the ammunition to explode above or near targets out to 600 meters.

Nicknamed "the Punisher" and designed by Orbital ATK Inc. and Heckler & Koch, the XM25 has stirred excitement in the infantry community, but the 14-pound weapon has taken its share of criticism.

This week, the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office released a follow-on report to a March 2014 audit and concluded Army officials "could have managed the schedule, affordability, and quantity requirements of the XM25 program more effectively."

The service has repeatedly delayed the weapon's initial production decision and failed to justify a basis of issue plan, the document states.

"Specifically, Army officials removed procurement funding from the XM25 budget, which extended the engineering and manufacturing development phase by 2 years," it states. "Additionally, Army officials contributed to the initial production decision delay by placing a hold on the XM25 capability production document."

But while the IG said the service's decision to extend the development effort and XM25 research caused costs to climb between February 2013 and March 2016, it failed to specify any actual dollar amounts.

Indeed, the report was heavily redacted, with blacked out figures for not only cost increases but also quantities, including how many XM25s the Army intends to field as part of its basis of issue plan.

When asked why such important information was redacted, Bridget Ann Serchak, spokeswoman, a spokesman for the Inspector General's office, said the Army -- as part of routine practice -- was allowed to decide what information it wanted classified as "for official use only" and thus not released in the IG report.

Even so, the audit recommends that the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, headed by Katrina McFarland, "determine whether to proceed with or cancel the XM25 program after reviewing the results of the 2016 Governmental testing," scheduled to be completed this fall.

A 'Leap-Ahead' Weapon?

The audit is the latest chapter in the troubled story of the Army's attempt to field a "leap-ahead" weapon designed to give infantry units a decisive edge against enemies hiding behind cover.

Part of the problem started Feb. 2, 2013, when the XM25 malfunctioned during its second round of operational testing in Afghanistan, inflicting minor injuries to a soldier, the audit maintains.

The Army halted the operational testing when the XM25 experienced a double feed and an unintentional primer ignition of one of the 25mm high explosive rounds, Army officials said at the time.

The warhead did not detonate because of safety mechanisms on the weapon.

The service removed all prototypes from theater to determine the problem's cause.

The XM25 had completed one 14-month battlefield assessment and was in the early stages of a second assessment when the double feed and primer ignition occurred during a live-fire training exercise.

"The XM25 weapon malfunction, during a forward operational assessment in February 2013, contributed to the initial production decision delay," according to the audit. "Army G-3/5/7 officials stated that the malfunction demonstrated that the XM25 weapon needed additional development and was not ready for an initial production decision. [Project Manager Individual Weapons] officials redesigned the weapon and ammunition to correct the cause of the malfunctions."

According to PM IW officials, the XM25 has not had any similar malfunctions since the changes were incorporated into the weapon and ammunition, the audit states.

Lingering Concerns

The audit highlights the concerns Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had with the XM25 when he was the commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence in 2013.

"On July 19, 2013, the Commanding General, MCOE, issued a memorandum detailing his concerns and recommendations regarding the XM25 program," the audit stated.

"The General's concerns included the unproven lethality of the XM25 system, the weight of the system, and the risks of limiting soldiers' capabilities when carrying the XM25 system. Specifically, the Commanding General was concerned that a soldier would have to turn in his or her rifle to carry the XM25."

McMaster stated that without a rifle:

--The soldier is unable to perform required tasks in many squad battle drills;

--The XM25 basic load of 36 rounds is depleted quickly in a direct-fire engagement; and

--The soldier has a reduced capacity to engage targets at close range.

McMaster's comments followed similar criticism of the XM25 by Rangers in Afghanistan.

In March 2013, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment refused to take XM25 with them for a raid on a fortified enemy compound in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the incident said.

After an initial assessment, Ranger units found the XM25 too heavy and cumbersome for the battlefield. They were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission, sources say.

Unsatisfactory Response

In a response letter to the DoD IG, Army Maj. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, deputy for Acquisition and System Management, said the Army concurred with the recommendation to either determine whether to proceed with or cancel the XM25 program after reviewing the results of the 2016 governmental testing.

"The Army Acquisition Authority, in concert with the chief of staff of the Army, continues to support the completion of the pre-production testing … leading to a Milestone C decision," he wrote. "At that time, the [Milestone Decision Authority] will review the test results and determine whether to proceed into initial production."

DoD IG officials are not satisfied with this response.

"Although the DASM agreed with the recommendation, the response did not address whether the ASA(ALT) will cancel the program if the XM25 does not meet all of its primary and secondary requirements," the audit states. "Therefore, we request that ASA(ALT) provide additional comments on its action plan to terminate a program that continues to have schedule delays, cost increases, and performance problems unless there are quantifiable program improvements."

Thurgood disagreed with the recommendation to develop policies for the retention of supporting documentation for basis of issue plans developed during the acquisition process.

Supporting documentation used to generate the basis of issue data comes from requirements documents, with the cost benefit analysis, system training plan, basis of issue guidance, and operation summary and mission profile, Thurgood said in his response.

Additionally, the retention of supporting documentation from basis of issue plan development has no value in establishing procurement quantities, he added.

IG auditors weren't satisfied with this response either.

"While the requirements documents referenced by the DASM discuss the different operational scenarios and uses of the XM25, they do not contain the underlying support for the different Army squads, platoons, and companies," according to the audit. "Without retaining supporting documentation for basis of issue plan recommendations, the Army cannot justify the March 2012 XM25 basis of issue plan.

"Because Army officials did not justify the XM25 basis of issue plan, the Army has no assurance that the estimated procurement quantity ... is valid."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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