BREAKING: Orbital ATK Sues Heckler & Koch Over XM25 “Punisher” Airburst Weapon

In a new twist to the ongoing story of the US Army’s XM25 CTDE “Punisher” airburst infantry grenade launcher, Orbital ATK, a technology partner on the program, has sued fellow partner Heckler & Koch for failure to deliver 20 units of the new weapon. Orbital ATK is seeking more than $27 million in damages from H&K, and transfer of some intellectual property to another contractor. Orbital ATK says that Heckler & Koch’s failure to deliver the weapons has jeopardized its contract with the US government, raising the chance of program termination, and at least causing a substantial delay.

Heckler & Koch denied the claims and refused to make a statement. However in a filing with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, it was noted that H&K apparently sought a confirmation over whether airburst infantry weapons would be legal for warfare under international law. According to Reuters, the company even requested the US government provide a special certification for the weapons.

Orbital ATK was formed via a 2015 merger between Orbital Sciences and Alliant Techsystems (ATK), creating the 33rd largest defense contractor in the world. ATK has been partnered with Heckler & Koch on the program since it was the XM29 OICW combined kinetic-explosive weapon. The former company was responsible for the munitions, optics, and fire control, while the latter was responsible for the architecture and housing.





Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Blake

    This article feels like it’s missing a bunch of info. I guess it’s just too new of a story to make sense of. I’m curious to see if Orbital’s claims have any merit and what the outcome will be.

    • It’s a developing story, so we’ll see how things turn out.

      • Blake

        That is unacceptable. A real gun news site would be able to report facts and incidents that haven’t happened yet.

        • Wow!

          I agree, but TFB is a blog. They aren’t a professional setup by any stretch of the imagination. This isn’t Defense Review or something similar.

  • gunsandrockets

    Funny that H&K didn’t see any legal issue with the OICW explosive ammo twenty years ago, but now the almost identical XM25 ammo is some kind of problem…

    • SPQR9

      The German government has become more aggressive in regulating german weapons manufacturers.

      • LCON

        perhaps they should hand over manufacture to the US subsidiary.

        • aka_mythos

          A technology transfer would still be regulated by the same import and export laws, if anything its stricter… even if it were to another subsidiary.

      • R

        Is there legal precedent for a weapons manufacturer to be sued for how a nation used its product?

        (Not being flippant, honestly curious)

        • Iggy

          Possibly in relation to some ‘riot gear’, shock batons and such like, that was clearly being used for torture, but I don’t think there’s any precedent for weaponry.
          I don’t know if it’s been done, but there would be a case if you sold to somewhere where there was a genocide happening for example. But that’s more the actual selling than the use.

          • Tom Currie

            I suppose it might be possible, IF the weapon had NO “leagal” use, but otherwise the far left of the US is the only place the insanity of trying to sue a manufacturer for possible misuse of a weapon.

            Meanwhile as others have pointed out, HK had no legal questions about basically the same weapon when they proposed it years ago.

            From a standpoint of considering the Law of War, I cannot see any legal difference between an “airburst infantry weapon” and an airburst artillery weapon – which have been in common use for something over two centuries.

        • chris

          Actually H&K and others have often sparked discussions and a lot of hate about what products they sell were.

          And we don’t have case law in Germany so a “legal precedent” isn’t whats important.

        • chris

          Also the reason why H&K stoped exporting into non EU or NATO countrys. German politicans tend to the a reduction in weapons exports as a god thing in it self and that is what they achievtwith the minister of Economics delaying or not giving export approval.

        • BigRonW

          After WW1. the Brits decided to switch from their venerable black powder .455″ pistol round to the smaller cordite powered .38″. Extensive research had shown that the new round was almost as effective, but a great deal lighter and more portable.The army was re-equipt with .38″ Webleys…. and then international treaties outlawed the use of unjacketed lead bullets. All the research had been done with a round that was no longer permitted. The army

          had the gun that theyd asked for… but not the right ammunition for it.So they fought WW2 largely equipt with underpowered revolvers, loaded with FMJ bullets.

        • SPQR9

          Not sued, prosecuted. German government has investigated H&K, as well as SIG Sauer in recent years. G36’s showed up in Libya, Mexico and Georgia, among other countries, and German prosecutors were investigating whether H&K knowingly sold them.

  • Tinkerer

    “Your Honor, we seek to sue the company Heckler und Koch, on grounds that we suck and they hate us.”

    • CavScout

      Hardly. HK dragging their feet to put their nose where it doesn’t belong. For example, the US’s use of airbursting weapons. Which are common.

  • hikerguy

    HK and Glock both could have a Netflix original soap opera over this stuff the last few years.

    • LGonDISQUS

      Ze German engineering has something similar with ze Swiss (Cheese)

      It is full of holes! ?????????????

      (Lookin’ at you, dieselgate Volkswagen.)

    • Vhyrus

      If you read the book about Glock you will find some absolutely scandalous stuff in their company history, including Mexican standoffs between executives, assassination attempts, corporate espionage, and a lot of sneaking around government rules.

      • SP mclaughlin

        Hell, some goon hired another goon to try and off Gaston Glock with a sledgehammer.

        • Colonel K

          Yes, and old man Glock disarmed the guy and beat him senseless. He’s one tough SOB who likes to swim for miles each day in a river, regardless of the weather.

      • n0truscotsman

        Thats the military products corporate world in a nut shell. Truly frightening and crazy stuff.

    • Major Tom

      Like bullets through a magazine, these are the Days Of Our Rifles.

  • gunsandrockets

    Two sides, both of which I could have the least sympathy for. Have at it.

    For those who don’t know, there are a lot of space-nerds who think ATK and the politicians who back them have done great harm to national policy when it comes to manned space flight.

    • Chris Lubowski

      …aaaaanddd…? Common, don’t leave us hangin’ here!

      • gunsandrockets

        just google these for a start (and it is only just a start!)

        “senate launch system”

        “ares I pogo”

        “srb o ring”

      • Sam P

        Some believe that solid-fuel rockets are a poor idea for a manned space launcher. The two big problems are: 1. it’s difficult to test to see if a casting is good, 2. once lit, you can’t really shut it down in case of problems.

        • Raven

          The Shuttle was a gigantic clusterf*ck of a program anyways, combined all the flaws of a disposable launch system with the safety issues of a reusable vehicle, and 40 years later we’re back to Soyuz capsules because the fleet fell apart and nobody would pay to replace it.

      • Evil13RT

        Solid fuel rockets have one big advantage but two bigger problems. They are always fueled and ready to go, making them good for weapons. The problem is they are always fueled, making them heavy and difficult to transport from factory to launch pad. Since they are always ready to go they can’t be stopped, which means your rocket accelerates faster as it burns off fuel but there’s no way to pull back on the thrust.
        Atk, who sells solid fuel, used its political connections to mandate a manned vehicle have a solid fuel component. Meanwhile spacex, who only uses liquid fuel, ships rockets weighing 95% less.

  • pollsm

    Knew all along that airburst weapon was meant to disable/injure and not kill, more burden on the enemy that way.
    Of course this was the cunning jihadists plan all along, get injured in war, go to europe, claim disability, learn braille, study koran fulltime, go to heaven.

    • 25mm

      Have fun beeing “just a bit injured” with an open skull.

  • Having looked into the XM25 and other GL’s a bit more, I think the best option moving forward is to retain the airburst rounds and fire control unit, but replace the XM25 with the Milkor SuperSix chambered in 40x51mm.

    The new class of 40x51mm Extended Range Low Pressure rounds have a stated range of 400-800 meters, and have a much more potent warhead then the little 25mm rounds from the XM-25. They can also fire a much wider array of munitions, from tear gas to thermobarics,

    Milkor’s are already being used by the Marine Corps. If they were upgraded to the Milkor Super Six with the computer fire control system of the XM25, they would have a far more effective and simpler GL then the XM25 at a fraction of the cost, as the weapon is COTS.

    • 25mm

      Trajectory, ammo weight, civilian casulty radius…?

      • Civilian casualties can be reduced quite easily with a 40mm with less payload/ shrapnel. 40mm GL’s can also fire tear gas, rubber beanbag rounds, flash bang rounds, and ISR parachute cameras. Even fully packed with HE and shrapnel, we’re talking 3.5oz’s HE from the document’s I’ve read, which is roughly 1/2 the fill of a standard hand grenade.

        The reverse cannot be said for the 25mm – there’s a very finite amount of room for payload, which means the rounds will likely be ineffective in many of the roles used for a GL. For example, hard to imagine a 25mm grenade taking out a Toyota Hillux with a ZPU in the back. Or being that effective if the shot is off by 2-3 meters at range/ use with a less then perfect shot picture (dudes scurrying around in the dark between cover.)

        Trajectory can largely be compensated with a well designed fire control system with built in laser range finder and angle of fire calculator. If the trajectory cannot be achieved (ie a super narrow window) then there’s either the Raytheon Pike, or precision rifle fire.

        Really the notion of a low radius grenade launcher is antithetical to the role of a grenade launcher, which is to provide man mobile artillery – aka, to blow things up. It’s maybe two degrees of separation from a “humane flame thrower” or “sniper shotgun” in absurdity.

        Don’t get me wrong, I was supppppper into the XM25 6-8 months back, but upon digging deeper into it, I’ve come to the conclusion that a 40mm Milkor with FCS and smart grenades is a much more versatile tool.

        • some other joe

          XM25 isn’t a grenade launcher, isn’t intended to be a grenade launcher, and is not doctrinally employed as a grenade launcher.

          • Except it is a grenade launcher – it fires a 25mm grenade. And at 14lbs / 30″ long, if the XM25 were to be deployed, it would end up as the primary weapon of the grenadier.

            So acronyms (CDTE) and designers intent aside, the practical reality is that if it’s being used at a squad / platoon level, the XM25 would be the units primary explosives launcher aka grenade launcher.

          • 25mm

            Its basicly a DMR that has effect around corners.

          • A DMR is basically a rifle with better optics and ammunition. I don’t see why a Milkor 40×51 with a XM25-style fire control system and airburst rounds couldn’t also be used in both the CDTE and grenade launcher role.

            It’s simpler, more versatile, more powerful, holds 1 more round, and can share ammunition with soldiers using rifle mounted 40mm GL’s.

          • 25mm

            Stupid Trajectory, weight per round, weight of the 6 seperate chambers, barrel lenght.

          • The Milkor actually weighs 2lbs less then the XM25 (12 vs 14lbs.) And for a low pressure, wide bore round, barrel length is not that important.

            Trajectory is largely overcome via a well designed fire control system.

            Projectile weight in this case is a huge benefit, as that translates into explosive payload and effectiveness.

          • Henry Servatt

            Can you launch a “grenade” through the narrow slits some sniper is shooting through, and detonate at one meter past the window frame, immediately, pre-armed? XM25 can.

          • Assuming a XM-25 style range calculating / adjusting optic mounted to the Milkor, using the new class of programable 40mm grenades, then yes you can. Low velocity does not preclude accuracy.

            Further, the higher warhead size of the 40mm means that should the round miss the slit in the window (an entirely probable outcome with any shoulder fired weapon) there’s a better chance of the warhead penetrating / shattering the wall, and either killing the sniper through secondary fragmentation, or exposing him for subsequent shots.

          • Henry Servatt

            Thanks, Mark. Might be nice to see such a marriage of technology. I occurred to me that it’s now been 11 years since I left ATK, and that a lot has changed in that time. Cheers, bro.

        • 25mm

          “If the trajectory cannot be achieved (ie a super narrow window) then there’s either the Raytheon Pike, or precision rifle fire.”

          Except that the pike is to heavy, and a DMR cant shoot around corners….

          Its not a grenade launcher its a CDTES.

          I think too it has a ton of missed potential, but rather in therms of mechanism.

          • The Pike only weighs about 2lbs, so if each member of the unit carries just one of them, they would likely provide all the high-precision/ flat trajectory HE needed for applications that could not be achieved via 40mm and rifle fire.

            The XM25 may be designed as a CDTE, but that’s just a acronym for grenade launcher – it’s a 14lbx30″ shoulder fired explosive shell chucker.

            The only difference is that a 25mm shell can only really be employed in a CDTE role, while a 40MM with a fire control system and smart grenades can be used as both a CDTE and a direct action grenade launcher (ie for destroying a technical a block away.)

            How much explosive is even in a 25x40mm grenade? How much steel? Against a peer-level threat (soldier in ceramic plates and modern IIIA+ helmets) how effective is it?

  • Beardedrambler

    I thought this program was cancelled when a solider was injured in a malfuction.

  • Geoff Timm

    I suspect the German Government has a finger in this pie. Maybe H&K should just be required to give up the design. As I understand it, the US Army owns the design, but contracts lately have been suspiciously awarded. Geoff Who suspects many things..

  • MPWS

    So here is the Punisher, in legal form.

  • Henry Servatt

    re “whether airburst infantry weapons would be legal for warfare under international law”… when push comes to shove, I believe in peace through superior firepower. The XM25 in my mind (former atk employee) is a great idea whose time started a long time ago, and has not ended. International laws are a snake pile.

    • Nick

      Not to mention when was the last time the US fought an adversary that cared about/followed international laws of war?

      • Henry Servatt

        Exactly!

  • FactChecker90803

    Let this be another lesson as to why Foreign Based companies that do not have Engineering or Manufacturing capacity in the USA, should not be receiving contracts by the US military. HK, Glock, Swissarms and Beretta are subject to EU laws, so even with contract obligations, these companies will adhere to EU laws.

  • LilWolfy

    “However in a filing with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, it was noted that H&K apparently sought a confirmation over whether airburst infantry weapons would be legal for warfare under international law.”