Known as the Aircrew Self Defense Weapon (GAU-5A), the 7-pound, 5.56 mm caliber rifle is based on the M4 carbine and 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, Gunsmith Shop chief. “It disconnects at the upper receiver, is located inside the seat kit (ACES II ejection seats), and can be put together within 30 seconds if needed.”
From February 2018 through January 2020, approximately 2,700 rifles were delivered to aircrew members.
According to the Small Arms Program Office, the cost to develop and field this new weapons system was $2.6 million. This weapon was developed to meet an urgent operational need to increase the survivability of downed aircrew. It is stripped of optics and aircrew 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 to pistols.
“We were established in 1958 by General Curtis LeMay,” Shelton said. “The original intent of the office was to improve marksmanship and shooting abilities of Airmen, and over time, the shop grew into what it is today.”
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.
“The most rewarding part of my job is getting assets (small arms) through the shop and taking a weapon that has been beat up and heavily used, and returning it to the user practically brand new,” Shelton said. “The other rewarding thing is when we work with the community to develop specific weapons for a specific Air Force need.”