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GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon (USA)

The current version of the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon was adopted by the US Air Force in 2018, to provide their combat pilots with a defensive weapon that can engage targets at further ranges compared to a typical issued sidearm such as an older M9 or a new M17 pistol. The goal was do procure a carbine-type weapon that can deliver effective fire to a range of about 200 meters, and fit into a relatively small bail-out survival bag that fits into the ejection seat of a modern fixed wing combat aircraft.


GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon
GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon in battle-ready configuration


The solution for this task was delivered by a small American company Cry Havoc Tactical, which «Tactical Quick Release Barrel» (QRB) system allows to easily disassemble an M4-style carbine and stow it in a compact manner. The bail-out kit consists, among other survival related items, of a GAU-5A weapon in a disassembled form, and four loaded 30-round magazines with the standard-issue 5.56x45mm ammunition. Once the bail-out bag is in the hands of the pilot, complete assembly of the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon into the fight-ready state normally takes less than one minute.


GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon
GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon disassembled into major parts for stowage


It is worth noting that the GAU-5A designation has been in use by the US Air Force since mid-1960s. The first GAU-5A carbine was based on the Colt CAR-15 Commando and differed from it mostly by not having a forward-assist button. The latter GAU-5A/A was like the XM177E1 Commando carbine, and both versions were used by USAF security personnel, helicopter crews and forward combat controllers. Later, probably around mid-1980s, the USAF also adopted the GAU-5P and GUU-5P carbines, which were rebuilt from older M16-style rifles, and also issued to various USAF personnel operating on the ground.



Colt CAR-15 survival rifle
Colt CAR-15 survival rifle, the first experimental survival / personal defense weapon based on the AR-15 from early 1960s


The first GAU-5A USAF carbine from 1966
The first GAU-5A USAF carbine from 1966


The GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, as adopted in 2018, is based on the M4 carbine, using standard M4 or M4A1 lower receiver and stock. The pistol grip is replaced with a folding unit designed and produced by the Israeli company FAB Defense. The standard upper receiver is fitted with the Cry Havoc QRB system, which consists of two steel collars and two clamps. One collar is attached to the front of the receiver, and the second one is attached to the barrel, and also holds a railed forend made my Midwest Industries. For assembly, forward collar, along with the barrel, forend and gas tube is fitted to the rear collar and locked to it using two side clamps. For disassembly, user must lock the bolt back on the empty chamber, unlock the clamps and pull the barrel forward and out of the receiver. This somewhat complex system is required since the basic weapon, the M4 carbine, cannot be fitted with a proper folding stock without a significant redesign.


GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon
GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon fitted into the ejection seat bag along with spare magazines


Specification Value
Full text name GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon (USA)
Caliber cartridge 5.56x45 NATO, .223 Remington
Action type select-fire
Trigger type sa
Overall length, mm 736
Barrel length, mm 318
Weight empty, kg 2.9
Magazine capacity, rounds 30
Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min 900