May 14, 2010: South Korea has its first export customer for its new K-11 20mm infantry rifle, with an order from the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for the $14,000 20mm/5.56mm weapon. The UAE is buying 40 K-11s initially, to try them out.
It was two years ago that South Korea revealed it had developed the K-11, which appears to be identical in concept of the U.S. Army XM-29 (or OICW, for Objective Individual Combat Weapon). The South Korean version weighs 13.4 pounds and combines a 5.56mm rifle, with one firing 20mm computer and laser controlled shells. The 18 pound XM-29 was developed, in the 1990s, as a replacement for the 40mm grenade launcher. The 40mm rounds weigh 19 ounces each, the 20mm OICW round weighs half that.
But there were several major problems with the OICW. It was too heavy and ungainly, and the 20mm "smart shell" it fired did not appear capable of effectively putting enemy troops out of action. So, in August, 2003, it was decided to take the 5.56mm portion of the OICW and develop it as a separate weapon (the XM-8) and develop the grenade launcher part that fired the "smart shell" as the XM-25. But the XM-25 would use a 25mm shell, which would generate 50 percent more fragments (and heavier ones at that) than the 20mm shell of the OICW. The XM-25 was expected to reach the troops by 2008. But that didn't happen, as tests were disappointing. U.S. troops have still not received the XM-25, but South Korean troops began getting the K-11 last year.
The 20mm and 25mm "smart shells" use a computer controlled fuze. The XM-25 operator can select four different firing modes via a selector switch on the weapon. The four modes include "Bursting" (airburst). For this to work, the soldier first finds the target via the weapons sighting system. The sight includes a laser range finder and the ability to select and adjust the range shown in the sight picture. For an air burst, the soldier aims at an enemy position and fires a round. The shell is optimized to spray incapacitating (wounding or killing) fragments in a roughly six meter radius. Thus if enemy troops are seen moving near trees or buildings at a long distance (over 500 meters), the weapon has a good chance of getting them with one shot. M-16s are not very accurate at that range, and the enemy troops will dive for cover as soon as M-16 bullets hit around them. With smart shells, you get one (or a few) accurate shots and the element of surprise.
The South Korean weapon appears to operate the same way as the 20mm shell of the XM-29. The South Koreans plan to issue the K-11, on the basis of two weapons per squad (an infantry unit containing 10-12 men). The K-11 is about 25 percent cheaper than the XM-29. It's unclear if the South Koreans found solutions to the problems the XM-29 and XM-25 encountered, or simply developed an improved XM-29 and decided it was useful in small numbers. The South Koreans have found that the 20mm smart shell is effective out to about 500 meters.