The US Air Force Gunsmith Shop, part of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Armament Directorate, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas recently completed delivery of the new GAU-5A survival rifle for aircrews. TFBB first reported that the USAF had developed a new survival rifle for pilots and aircrews forced to eject over hostile territory back in June 2018. We got our first proper look at the new rifle in May 2019, when the new Aircrew Self Defense Weapons (ASDW) was seen in the hands of F-22 Raptor pilots at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
The Aircrew Self Defense Weapon or GAU-5A is an adaptation of a standard M4 carbine, chambered in 5.56x45mm and using M4 lower receivers, with burst setting. The GAU-5A was developed by the USAF Gunsmith Shop in close coordination with small arms engineers to provide downed aircrew with additional firepower while they await rescue.
Richard Shelton, Chief of the Gunsmith Shop, explained: “We were asked to design a stand-off weapon that was capable of hitting a man size target at 200 meters. It disconnects at the upper receiver, is located inside the seat kit [of the ACES 2 ejection seats], and can be put together within 30 seconds if needed.”
The new rifle weighs under seven pounds and is stored with four loaded magazines. From February 2018 through to January 2020, the Gunsmith Shop has assembled approximately 2,700 ASDW rifles, which have now been delivered to aircrews.
The GAU-5A was developed to meet an urgent operational requirement to increase the firepower and survivability of downed aircrew. The carbine ships with back up iron sights only, as an optic would add additional weight. The carbines are made up of off-the-shelf parts such as the FAB Defense folding pistol grip and Midwest Industries’ MLOK forend as well as the Cry Havoc quick release barrel system. The development and assembly of the new rifles reportedly cost $2.6 million dollars, according to the Small Arms Program Office.
The USAF Gunsmith Shop, currently stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, was established back in 1958 to help improve the marksmanship of airmen and overhaul Air Force small arms and heavier weapons. The shop includes civilian and military employees who are certified gunsmiths, small arms repairman and machinists. They are currently refurbishing M9 handguns and M14 Honor Guard rifles. Their next major project will be a large M4 refurbishment.