Minnesota, German companies fighting over new weapon

A Minnesota company is fighting with a German company over money, and the issue of war crimes.

Orbital ATK, based in Minnesota, and Heckler & Koch, based in Germany, worked together on a weapon for the military that allows soldiers to fire a 25mm round that explodes at  a preset distance. The weapon, called the XM25, is intended to target enemies who are hiding, like behind a brick wall.

International Laws of War

However, the project started to go sour with delays in shipments. ATK accused H&K of delays, and H&K raised concerns about the weapon possibly violating international laws of war.

According to a civil complaint, H&K’s lawyers believed the XM25 could violate the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868, signed after Russia developed a projectile that exploded upon impact with soft surfaces. The agreement banned combustible or explosive projectiles under 400 grams.

The lawyers for ATK disagreed, writing the opinion was flawed because it was based on the “assumption that the XM25 weapon system would be intentionally misused.” ATK hired a law firm to conduct its own review; the lawyers decided the weapon did not violate any international laws of war.

The complaint says H&K then sought a second legal opinion which came to the same conclusion as ATK’s. H&K then sought a third opinion that said the XM25 could subject the company to criminal liability, but ATK argues the opinion was based on the assumption the weapon would be used to break international laws of war.

Finally, H&K agreed to send the delayed weapons if ATK got a “special certification” from the U.S. Government that the weapon would only be used to target hiding enemies. The U.S. Government would not provide the certification.

Delays, Cost Increases, Performance Problems

The fight over international laws of war may not explain the crux of the dispute: money. ATK claims it has lost tens of millions of dollars because H&K has failed to send twenty prototype weapons. H&K’s arguments about international law came after ATK repeatedly warned the German company it was late in delivery, according to the complaint.

Additionally, the Department of Defense conducted an audit of the XM25 in August 2016. The audit found “schedule delays, cost increases, and performance problems.” The partially redacted report noted a delay of five years, and malfunctions leading to minor injuries.

ATK’s lawsuit claims H&K’s delays have “jeopardized the viability of the program moving forward. Additionally, the U.S. Army has raised the possibility of termination of the Prime Contract on multiple occasions." ATK seeks at least $27 million in damages, and the transfer of intellectual property.

Neither ATK nor H&K responded to requests for comment.