When a movie or game involves weapons, it’s very likely there’s a cool factor involved; whether it’s the BFG from Doom, a lightsaber, or the flippy-flippy shotgun from Terminator 2. While we probably fantasized about owning one of these as a kid, boring real world constraints like practicality and technological limitations limit them to, well, childhood fantasies.
But as we’re about to find out, some kids become adults who can their childhood fantasies happen… kinda.
Our Cilisenses started tingling while watching Youtube videos in the throne, when we heard about an obscure weapon being used by the Royal Malaysian Navy.
Out of curiosity, we looked it up and found out that it’s not the Navy as a whole, but specifically by PASKAL, our Navy’s special operations force. What makes this even more interesting is that Malaysia is the only country using this weapon. And beyond all that, the cherry on the cake is that this weapon was originally part of the US Army’s attempt to develop a smart weapon.
In the 90’s, the US Army wanted a rifle of the future
So, bit of background. The US Military has been running programs for decades to improve on their current firearms, like increasing accuracy, reliability, or portability. Arms manufacturers would then come up with prototypes that would try to meet these new requirements, although many of these prototypes ended up in the Battlefield video games rather than the battlefield.
In the 90’s, the Army wanted to solve a problem: How to take out enemies hiding behind walls or in rooms. This sparked off the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) program – develop a rifle that could take out enemies hiding behind cover, without needing to switch to grenades or grenade launchers.
German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch (HK) was one of the companies that won out with the XM29 OICW, which was business at the bottom and sexy on the top. The bottom section was the rifle part, which fired bullets. On the other hand, the top section was an attachment that fired programmable airburst smart bullets. Essentially, the scope uses a laser to calculate distance so the user can program how far the bullet travels before it explodes. This means that bullets could be programmed to punch through walls and explode in a room, or explode over walls.
While it looks and sounds cool (not to mention deadly), it kinda proved why we never see these big chunky sci-fi guns used in real life – the initial reviews stated that the XM29 was simply too heavy and expensive.
The the US Army wanted a rifle that looked futuristic
One of the main issues with the XM29 was the weight, so HK eventually decided to split the XM29 into two separate weapons – the rifle and the programmable airburst launcher. According to Ian McCollum from Forgotten Weapons, part of the feedback H&K got from the Army about the rifle part was:
“We want it to look a little more Starship Troopers”
For those of you old enough or interested in obscure sci-fi movies, Starship Troopers was a 1997 movie that featured a futuristic human military fighting a war with space insects. Other than Neil Patrick Harris in a Nazi-looking uniform, the movie was remembered for its weapons which were legen….wait for it….
….dary. via Gfycat
And so, HK redesigned the rifle part to look more Starship Troopers and ended up with the XM8 – a modular rifle with swappable components. We won’t go into gun details here, but the XM8 was initially seen as a potential replacement for the M16 rifle, which had been standard issue since the Vietnam war in the 60’s.
Unfortunately, despite performing relatively well in tests, the US Army eventually put the procurement plans on hold before cancelling it for good in 2005. The exact reason for the cancellation isn’t certain, but it’s said to be a combination of whether the XM8’s improvements was worth the cost of replacing the M16, and the US Army’s legal obligations to prefer US-based manufacturers.
And finally, the Malaysian Navy gave this rifle a future
After the US Army liberated the XM8 from their plans, HK wanted to market the rifle to other countries. The PDRM and the Malaysian Army tested the guns in 2007, but it ultimately ended up in the hands of PASKAL
soldiers operators (Thanks for pointing this out Amir!) around 2010.
It’s not entirely clear why Malaysia is the only country using the XM8, or how many were bought. According to one source, the XM8s were “part of a larger shopping spree” which included other HK firearms, and it’s likely that we bought the remaining stock that H&K had leftover from the US Army tests. However, there’s also a comment on Reddit saying that they were donated or sold to Malaysia as part of a foreign military aid package.
As for the smart bullet half of the gun, it became the XM25, which actually saw trial use in Afghanistan before being terminated in 2018.
So that’s the story behind how we ended up with a sweet-looking gun that was originally created from ambitious dreams and obscure movie references – but perhaps it could have been sweeter. Starship Troopers was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who’s most well known for another movie that has it’s own iconic gun: