In a redacted report issued Monday, the Department of Defense's inspector general said the Army should make a decision on whether to continue or scrap the XM25 “Punisher” weapons program, after it reviews the latest round of testing for the long-delayed system.
The Punisher, a nickname soldiers have given the XM25, is a shoulder-fired, semiautomatic weapon that fires a 25-millimeter high-explosive into the air near hidden targets. It uses a laser rangefinder to set the distance to the target and the fired rounds detonate like an airburst.
The XM25 is supposed to help small units engage the enemy more quickly, while reducing their reliance on mortars or close air support to root out opponents who are behind walls, in trenches or hidden in rough terrain.
The Army began field tests of the weapon in Afghanistan in 2010. The inspector general's report noted that it had its first malfunction in June 2011, a second in April 2012 and a third in February 2013 that injured its operator.
As a result, the Army sent the weapon back for “additional development” and it was redesigned to “correct the cause of the malfunction.”
The Army removed funding for procurement in 2013 and 2014, to focus on more tests.
The delays have pushed back a decision on whether to take the XM25 into production until later this year.
But each delay, and each new round of modifications and testing, has added to the costs, which are now estimated at more than $835 million over the weapon's lifetime.
Jacqueline Wicecarver, the assistant inspector general for acquisition and sustainment management, said the weapon has “systemic problems,” and continues to “experience schedule delays, cost increases and performance problems.”
Her report said “the Army should determine whether to cancel the program or immediately schedule an initial production decision” if tests conducted in June show the weapon can “meet its primary and secondary performance requirements.”
Major-General L. Neil Thurgood, the Army's deputy for acquisition and system management, agreed with the recommendation to assess the program once the test results are finalized.
In spite of the XM25's problems, it has proven popular with troops in field testing.
Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute, told AMI Newswire that the Defense Department has not had any big program cancellations in several years.
He said there have been some smaller cancellations, like the Army Ground Combat Vehicle, that were ended prior to full production.
“For political reasons, mostly local jobs, things become much tougher to cancel once they ramp up production,” he explained.
“It’s not easy even before that, but I do think the services have to cancel some stuff to meet the budget caps, and [the XM25] could be one of the programs that goes.”
“I don’t sense great enthusiasm for [the XM25] from reading the Army responses to the report,” Friedman said.