The Air Force Gunsmith Shop – part of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Armament Directorate – recently completed delivery of a new rifle for aircrew in most ejection seat aircraft. Known as the Aircrew Self Defense Weapon (GAU-5A), the 5.56 mm caliber rifle was designed by the Gunsmith Shop in close coordination with the small arms engineer to provide downed aircrew with additional firepower while they wait for rescue.
“We were asked to design a stand-off weapon that was capable of hitting a man size target at 200 meters,” said Richard Shelton, Chief of the Gunsmith Shop. “It disconnects at the upper receiver, is located inside the seat kit [of ACES 2 ejection seats] and can be put together within 30 seconds if needed.”
The new rifle is based on the M4 Carbine and weighs under seven pounds. Approximately 2,700 rifles were delivered to aircrew members between February 2018 and January 2020. According to the Small Arms Program Office the cost to develop and field this new weapons system was $2.6 million dollars. Developed to meet an urgent operational need to increase downed aircrew survivability, it is stripped of optics and aircrews must utilize the iron sights only.
Not only is the Gunsmith Shop in the design business, but it also repairs, refurbishes and overhauls all small arms for the Air Force, which includes anything from .50 caliber machine guns down to pistols. Established in 1958 by Gen. Curtis LeMay, the shop is comprised of civilian and military employees who are certified gunsmiths, small arms repairman and machinists. They are the only ones in the Air Force that are allowed to work on government issued weapons at the depot level. The team works very closely with Combat Arms professionals across the enterprise.
Currently the shop is refurbishing M9 handguns and M14 Honor Guard rifles. The next project will be a large M4 refurbishment, along with other ongoing small-arms production lines.