We ran a story on Military.com the next day that reflected the Army's enthusiasm for what Soldiers are calling "The Punisher" and illustrating how the counter-defilade gun can stop firefights in their tracks.
Kit Up! learned, however, that while the XM-25 is impressive, the weapon had been fired a few more than 50 times in less than 10 engagements and had chalked up only two suspected kills.
After getting the brush off from PEO Soldier Weapons initially, they later set up an interview for us to talk to Col. Tamilio (PEO Soldier Weapons), LtCol. Lehner (XM-25 PM), Maj. Christopher Conley (XM-25 field evaluator) and Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Smith (XM-25 field evaluator) to "tell the American people" whats really going on with the weapon.
So, here's the straight dope (and this is verified by another source not connected with PEO Soldier -- and NOTE: I do know at least one of the units who has used the XM-25 in Afghanistan, but I agreed not to reveal the information for OPSEC reasons).
The XM-25 has fired 55 rounds in nine firefights between Dec. 3 and January 12, when the formal Forward Operational Assessment ended. Officials say the weapon "disrupted" two insurgent attacks against an observation post, destroying one PKM machine gun position in one of those attacks. That is where the "usually our engagements last for 15-20 minutes. With the XM-25 they're over in a few minutes" line came from.
The XM-25 also "destroyed" four ambush sites during engagements on foot patrols or movements to contact. In one instance, the 25mm HE round exploded on a PKM gunner and he was either wounded and fled or scared and fled, but dropped his machine gun, which Soldiers later recovered.
Two units within the 101st Airborne have used the XM-25 since November. The first unit fired 28 rounds in four TICs, the second unit fired 27 rounds in five TICs.
Keep in mind, however, these numbers reflect the AAR from the formal forward operational assessment. Both Lehner and Conley are heading back over to The Stan in a couple weeks to get more data since the weapon is still being used as we write this.
Contrary to what we'd heard on Thursday, both Conley and Smith said Soldiers usually carried the XM-25 as their primary weapon when on patrol with no personal weapon at all. Typically on patrol, the XM-25 gunner is used for overwatch, so he's not kicking in a door or searching a qalat.
Here's how SFC Smith described one of the attacks on an OP where the XM-25 knocked out the bad guy:
If you know anything about Afghanistan you know that the enemy likes to hide behind stuff and we really can't shoot through boulders and stuff like that. On the first engagement we were engaged by PKM fire up on the OP. And what happens is you receive fire and you return fire. ...What happened was when we initially received the PKM fire, you reengage with your 240s and your M2s and your M4s, and after we figured we really weren't getting to the enemy enough, the Soldier was directed to fire with the XM-25 ... and like I said before, the enemy likes to hide behind rocks and boulders and we really can't shoot through stuff like that. After [the Soldier] engaged with four rounds of the XM-25, the firefight just ceased. We really couldn't go out and do any BDA or anything like that. But you could tell that when the XM-25 brought the difference to whether they would stay there 15 or 20 minutes shooting, taking pot shots at us where the actual fight ended after using the XM-25. That was due to the ability of the XM-25 to shoot beyond targets and behind targets.Smith said it turned a 15-20 fight into a 5-7 minute fight. Might have been a nice weapon to have at Wanat or Keating...
So while the body count racked up by The Punisher isn't great -- those with experience in Afghanistan know fights are usually at a range where BDA is impossible. But what really matters is that the shooting stops. PEO officials pointed out that in the nine TICs where the XM-25 was used, not one single Soldier was injured or killed.
Lastly, Col. Tamilio said that the XM-25 will likely stay with the unit that has it now in Afghanistan through the winter. Around March they'll bring the five weapons back, see what kind of wear and tear they endured and refit them to "like new" condition. Then they want to give the five Punishers to a unit who's spooling up for deployment and have them take the XM-25s over with them.
"We really want them to train up with it in the US before they go," Tamilio said, adding they'll keep the weapons in the field as long as they hold up.
One interesting vignette Maj. Chris Conley told me:
The troops are very excited to carry it. We've limited who can carry it based on the number of folks that we've trained. But within that group of Soldiers that are trained on the operation of the XM-25 it's definitely a case of -- I heard a Soldier say 'Hey he carried it yesterday so I get to carry it today...' There's certainly some posturing and whatnot between the Soldiers to try to get to carry it. We trained a guy on Christmas and he was literally thanking me saying "Wow, this is the best Christmas ever!"...I'm sure that Soldier's mom wouldn't be pleased to hear that...but some of the rest of us can understand his enthusiasm.