After almost a year long wait, the Air Force is finally beginning to equip its aircrews with more firepower in their survival kits.

“Survival kits are there to make sure our aircrew have everything they need should a bad day occur,” said Master Sgt. Mark Caron, 366th Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment quality assurance inspector.

Back in June 2018, Air Force Times reported that the Air Force would be producing longer range stand-off rifles for aircrews to use in combat if they are shot down in enemy territory.

Air Force aircrews are starting to receive and train on the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, shown here fully assembled. (Air Force)
Air Force aircrews are starting to receive and train on the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, shown here fully assembled. (Air Force)

The GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon is a variant of the M4 carbine with a modified quick-release barrel designed by Cry Havoc, Maj. Docleia Gibson, an Air Combat Command spokeswoman, told Air Force Times a year ago.

“The [GAU-5A] and four full magazines, 30 rounds [each], must all fit in the ejection seat survival kit,” Gibson said. “This has driven the dimension of 16 x 14 x 3.5 inches.”

That design gives pilots 120 rounds — about two magazines shy of a full load-out on a ground troop’s personal kit — during an evasion scenario.

An April 23 Facebook Post from the 3rd Wing shows F-22 Raptor pilots training with the new GAU-5A at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

“Thank you 673 SFS for showing our F-22 leaders the new GAU-5 that will increase firepower of our pilots if they ever have to eject over enemy territory!” said Col. Robert Davis, 3rd Wing commander, in the post.

A May 9 Air Force news release says F-15E pilots with the 366th Fighter Wing out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho are also being equipped with the new GAU-5A.

The rifle is contained in ACES II survival kits “to embolden aircrew and enhance tactical readiness in combative and emergency situations,” according to the release.

Airman 1st Class Zack Day, an aircrew flight equipment apprentice with the 366th Operation Support Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, assembles a GAU-5A. (Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka/Air Force)
Airman 1st Class Zack Day, an aircrew flight equipment apprentice with the 366th Operation Support Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, assembles a GAU-5A. (Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka/Air Force)

Before this weapon system was introduced, ejected pilots were limited to only their sidearm in self-defense.

The GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon could be used to prevent situations like that which confronted Russian aviator Maj. Roman Filipov in February 2018. After ejecting from his Sukhoi-25 ground-attack aircraft over northwestern Syria, Filipov found himself surrounded by enemy fighters, armed only with a pistol. He defended himself for as long as he could before blowing himself up with a hand grenade.

The GAU-5A has an effective range of more than 200 meters. With its special locking system created by Cry Havoc, the rifle can be assembled and fired in 60 seconds with no tools. It is a semi-automatic rifle that uses a standard 5.56mm round and is capable of three-round burst.

The rifle was designed to be added in the survival kits for all combat-coded aircraft. In total, 2,137 weapons are expected to be fielded, Gibson said.