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'Smart' grenade launcher heads to Afghanistan

The XM-25 makes use of features like a laser rangefinder and microchip-equipped ammo to take on targets out of reach of small arms fire.

The XM-25 puts a high-tech precision-targeting system into a soldier's hands. PEO Soldier

The futuristic-looking XM-25 shoulder-fired weapon, a sort of a souped-up grenade launcher, will soon be getting its trial by combat.

U.S. Special Forces soldiers will be trying out the XM-25 in Afghanistan this summer, according to a report Thursday at Military.com. It's not clear how many of those weapons will be going, but the numbers are likely to be quite small, given that it's still early days for the specialized system.

The XM-25, which fires a 25mm airbursting, high-explosive round, packs a whole lot of smarts to go with its punch. With the click of a button, a laser rangefinder quickly determines how far away the target is, and that distance gets displayed in the weapons optics, along with crosshairs already adjusted for factors such as temperature and air pressure. The built-in target acquisition/fire control capabilities also program the relevant data into the sensor- and microchip-equipped ammo. (Wired's Danger Room blog has a photo of an XM-25 round hitting a target.)

The Army says that the whole process takes less than five seconds and can be done by a soldier with just basic marksmanship skills, making it quicker and cheaper to use than mortar or artillery for targets outside the effective range of small arms, or behind cover. (Its formal title is the XM-25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System.) The XM-25 has a point target range of about 500 meters and an area target range of 700 meters.

The 12-pound, 29-inch-long weapon, made by Heckler & Koch, also has a built-in thermal sight, meaning it's effective at nighttime, too.

Smart doesn't come cheap, of course. Military.com reports that cost projections for the XM-25 come to about $25,000 per weapon and that the Army expects to spend $34 million to continue development in 2011, ahead of planned production starting in 2012.

The Army has said it hopes to purchase more than 12,500 XM-25 systems.

XM-25 ammo
The first ammunition in use in the XM-25 is a 25mm high-explosive airburst round. PEO Soldier