Air Force Crews Get New Rifle for Defense in Case of Crash, Ejection

Firing the GAU-5 at the off-base shooting range outside of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (US Air Force photo/Chester Mientkiewicz)
Firing the GAU-5 at the off-base shooting range outside of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (US Air Force photo/Chester Mientkiewicz)

U.S. Air Force fighter and bomber crews are adding a new weapon to their ejection survival packs: a semi-automatic stand-off rifle.

The service has begun fielding the longer-range weapon, known as the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, Maj. Docleia Gibson, Air Combat Command spokeswoman, told on Friday.

"The ASDW will be given to all combat-coded ejection aircraft," Gibson said in a statement. "There are continuous evaluations of Air Force programs and policies. The ASDW allows aircrew to have a longer stand-off range."

Pilots currently have knives and a sidearm in their survival packs. The goal of the ASDW is to provide better protection if their aircraft is shot down or if they have to eject in enemy territory.

Combat-coded aircraft include fighters and attack planes such as F-15 Eagles and Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, and F-22 Raptors; as well as B-1B Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit bombers.

Gibson said the gun, based on the M4 carbine, does not replace any part of the survival pack now.

"This is just an addition to the current capability that they already have," she said.

The GAU-5A is currently being made at the rate of 100 per week. ACC estimates that 2,137 total will be fielded, she said.

According to The Firearm Blog, which first reported the news, the new weapon uses a quick release barrel made by Cry Havoc Tactical. Gibson told the blog that the semi-automatic carbine is capable of firing a three-round burst, and uses a standard 5.56mm round with a range of more than 200 meters.

The Air Force previously used the GAU-5A designation during the Vietnam War-era in its description of a M16 rifle variant, as noted by The Drive. The service also used GAU-5A/A to describe its version of the XM177E2 commando carbine.

The Air Force has not found itself in an air-to-air, dogfight combat scenario in more than two-decades. The last known such instance was when a U.S. F-16 shot down a Serbian MiG-29 in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.

But that same year, then-Lt. Col. David Goldfein was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in his F-16CJ fighter jet over Serbia during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Goldfein, now a four-star general, is the Air Force chief of staff.

Officials have said they are increasingly worried about crews potentially entering contested environments in the next large-scale war with a near-peer adversary like Russia or China, and have even taken lessons learned from environments like Syria.

And it's what they're consistently training for.

"We balanced more toward training efficiency to get more repetitions ... or trips across the range, if you will," all while keeping in mind contested environments, said Col. Michael Mathes, commander of the 414th Combat Training Squadron. spoke with Mathes in March about two nearly back-to-back Red Flag exercises at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, which were aimed at helping airmen prepare for warfighting scenarios across the globe.

"We do air-to-air, and we do surface-to-air defense suppression, and those are enablers along with command and control, and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], [which] are enablers of kinetic and non-kinetic strike ops," Mathes said.

    -- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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