Firing The Army’s Biggest, Baddest Guns

It's not too often I get to play with military-grade weaponry, and the military is usually pretty wary about reporters handling firearms. But yesterday I travelled to Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, to see the latest improvements in soldier weaponry.

Reporters had the chance to test out a range of weapons, from the M4 Carbine to the M107 sniper rifle. It was also an opportunity for the Army to show off the XM25 airburst weapon. The XM25 is an advanced grenade launcher that fires a smart 25mm round automatically programmed to go off just above or behind its target: The idea is to create a devastating, pinpoint-accurate infantry weapon that can hit targets that are "in defilade" (behind a wall, or dug into the ground).

This screen grab from a high-speed camera shows the round detonating just inside a window target. Brig Gen Peter Fuller, the head of PEO Soldier, told reporters that the $US30,000 weapon had already been delivered to the Special Forces and they "going to be taking it downrange" this winter.

The service also showcased some less-lethal equipment. This is the CROWS remote weapon station, outfitted with a nonlethal green laser. It's part of an "escalation of force" package the military fielded last month in Afghanistan.

Maj. Michael Pottratz, who made the trip to Afghanistan last month to issue out the new kit, told Danger Room the system had been installed on different variants of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle. The idea is to prevent incidents like the recent deadly bus shooting in Kandahar, where coalition forces failed to warn off an approaching vehicle with a torch and flares, and then engaged the bus with gunfire, killing several civilians.

Pottratz, who said he had tested the dazzler on himself, said the effect of the green laser was "exactly like looking at a very bright light, like a welding torch or the sun, for just a fraction of a second".

At Aberdeen, we also got to try out the latest in night-vision technology: The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle. This ghostly image is from the new night-vision monocular, which fuses an image-intensification image that amplifies ambient light and overlays it with an infrared image. It expands the viewing capability to all light conditions, and also simplifies the soldier's load.

Sgt Christopher Shupe, who field-tested the new goggle in Afghanistan, said the system also offered increased battery life, which meant fewer worries about swapping out or carrying extra batteries during an extended patrol. Sgt. First Class Lang Gureckis, who also tried it out in Afghanistan, said the system's range and resolution meant telling the difference between combatants and potentially hostile forces. "You can see whether it's a guy with an AK-47, or a guy with a blanket on his shoulder," he said.

Because the device emits infrared light, it can also be used for identifying friendly units, especially in situations where dust or smoke obscure the battlefield.

The Army also showcased improvements to some old standbys, like the M2 .50-calibre machine gun. The Ma Deuce has been in service since 1933. The Army has introduced a quick-change barrel, which allows the crew to swap out the barrel quickly without having to go through the time-consuming but essential drill of checking headspace and timing.

In this video clip, operators on the left are swapping out the barrel on a legacy M2, using gauges to ensure that the new barrel is properly installed. In heavy combat, that exercise could cost several crucial minutes.

The barrel on the upgraded M2,  shown here on the right, is is swapped out in a matter of seconds. The operator - shown here - rapidly fires off a burst while the team on the left is still working.

Finally, the Army also showed off another tool: The Modular Accessory Shotgun system, a straight-pull, bolt-action 12-gauge that can be used as a stand-alone weapon or as an under-barrel accessory on a rifle or carbine.

In addition to being a deadly close-quarters weapon for clearing rooms, the shotgun can be used for breaching doors: It has an attachment on the muzzle that gives the shooter a precise three-inch shot for blasting the handle off of a door.

[PHOTOS AND VIDEO: Nathan Hodge] has been expanding the hive mind with technology, science and geek culture news since 1995.

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