JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas – 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), which is a 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.
From Feb. 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 dollars. This weapon was developed to meet an urgent operational need to increase downed aircrew survivability. 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 down to pistols.
“We were established in 1958 by Gen. 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,” said Shelton. “The other rewarding thing is when we work with the using community to develop specific weapons for a specific Air Force need.”
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.