USAF's New GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon

Matthew Moss
by Matthew Moss
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Peter Curry, 35th Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems apprentice and Senior Airman Jeffrey Bowen, 35 MXS aircrew egress systems journeyman, consult a technical order for the installation of an aircrew survival kit at Misawa Air Base, Japan, July 31, 2014. After the Egress team receives the survival kit from the Aircrew Flight Equipment section, they install it into an F-16 Fighting Falcon’s ejection seat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Patrick S. Ciccarone)

At the 2018 NDIA Armaments Forum the US Air Force detailed some of their current major small arms programmes. One of these was for a new ultra compact Aircrew Self Defense Weapon. This is a compact conversion of standard M4 carbines into a package small enough to be stowed aboard USAF combat aircraft.

TFB reached out to the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command for more information, they confirmed that the ASDW’s official designation is the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapons (ASDW). Air Force spokesperson Major Docleia M. Gibson described the weapon:

Much like the current M4, the GAU-5A is a shoulder fired weapon that has a semi-automatic carbine that is capable of firing a 3-round burst. It uses standard 5.56mm ammunition with an effective range beyond 200m. The weapon can be assembled/disassembled in 60 seconds without tools.

Major Gibson was also kind enough to provide this photograph of the ADW assembled:

US Airforce's Aircrew Self Defense Weapon with folding grip, detachable barrel, MLOK forend and BUIS. (USAF)

With little information available I decided to try and track down what off the shelf components might be used to assemble the new compact carbine. The weapon has some fairly unique characteristics and not too many companies offer products that match. First lets look at the hinged pistol grip, it appears to be a FAB Defense AGF-43S Folding Pistol Grip. The AGF-43S weighs 119g or 4.2 ounces and folds backwards to a height of just 56mm 2.2 inches.

Upon reaching out to the Air Force, they confirmed to us that the barrel system they are using in the ASDW is the Quick Release Barrel (or QBR) from Cry Havoc Tactical. The Cry Havoc QBR’s barrel assembly has a protruding indexing pin which allows for indexing in low-light conditions and also acts to protect the rifle’s gas tube from being damaged if the barrel and receiver are misaligned and pushed together with force, such as during a potential high stress situation.

The QBR has a pair of locking latches either side of the barrel, at 3 and 9 o’clock, these keep the barrel locked into the upper receiver. Unlike other quick detach barrel systems the QBR also allows non-proprietary railed forends to be mounted. The QBR kit can be ordered from Cry Havoc for $349 RRP. From the photograph provided by the USAF we can see that the carbine has an MLOK forend and folding back up iron sights but retains the M4’s standard butt stock.

Here’s a video from Cry Havoc explaining how the system works:

The GAU-5A ASDW’s are being converted and assembled at the USAF Gunsmith Shop, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The Air Force confirmed that 2,137 ASDWs will be fielded with all combat coded A-10, B-1, B-2, B-52, F-15C, F-15E, F-16, and F-22 units. It will be stowed aboard aircraft in a compact kit including 4 magazines (120 rounds) and must all fit in the standard ejection seat survival kit. The kit measures 16″x14″x3.5″.

Matthew Moss
Matthew Moss

Managing Editor: & Overt Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written several books and for a variety of publications in both the US and UK. Matt is also runs The Armourer's Bench, a video series on historically significant small arms. Here on TFB he covers product and current military small arms news. Reach Matt at:

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  • Bill Bill on Jun 30, 2018

    This is freaking awesome. We've come a long way from the AR-7! Maybe we could call it the AirPewMan...?

  • Tiger Tiger on Jul 01, 2018

    Now will the kit still have combo Russian phrase book and Bible or $100 in gold? 🤔