DSM Gives His Thoughts On Aircrew Survival Gun


After Howard’s post on the new take down AR for aircrew the other day. Some good discussion was generated. DSM chimed in with some great points. So I have offered it up for hopefully more discussion.

The Air Force broadly classifies its weapons into two categories; ground and aerial. For instance, an M240 mounted in the door of an HH-60 Blackhawk would be maintained as aircraft armament by those technicians whereas that same M240 mounted on an HMMWV sitting overwatch at a gate would be maintained by the servicing Combat Arms Training & Maintenance (CATM, pronounced phonetically as kat-um) section. By “maintained” I mean everything above operator level maintenance but below depot level. Despite this separation any qualification would most likely be run by the servicing CATM section which is where the “T” in the acronym comes from. The Air Force centralizes small arms training and qualification where other services are mostly unit led functions. My background is CATM so I’ll say that is my bias up front.
First, just as I stated in my last statement to the original post, what the AF has chosen will work just fine. It is utilizing “recycled” components as its core; lowers, uppers and standardized ammunition. The equipment peculiar to the new GAU-5A is all COTS and probably well within the small budget the program would have been allowed. As an academic exercise taken from behind a keyboard and given the self-imposed limitations of this piece being stored in an already cramped, finite space let’s discuss alternatives. (The take-down upper feature is a novel problem solving idea so I’ll leave it be.)
Sights. The rifle wouldn’t need those range adjustable sights. In a perfect world, an MRDS like an RMR would be even more ideal and easier for someone who’s day-to-day is not spent in the pursuit of mastering small arms. Simplicity is desired here. A self-defense weapon would not be used at distances much beyond rock throwing range. The point being you’re inside the battle sight zero of the weapon. It will add height to the weapon so I’d recommend an RMR in a throw lever mount. In the absence of an MRDS a simpler style rear BUIS would be more suitable. Something with a large aperture that allows a quick sight picture for close-in, fast moving threats. A tritium sighting aid would also be ideal. The KAC 300m BUIS comes to mind as a place to start.
Barrel. The primary goal of downed aircrew is to evade/escape so let’s stack the deck in that direction. Short barrels are loud and flash brightly. Add a suppressor to the kit as a separate piece of equipment, or, go with a shorter, integrally suppressed barrel. Short, removable cans are COTS but given the chance to bid any manufacture could produce a specific unit in short order and at minimum cost. It needn’t have the whiz bang features of their flagship models, just something that’d reduce muzzle blast and sound. At a max of 120rds fired I’d bet an aluminum unit would suffice.
Caliber. Cartridges such as 6x35mm KAC, 300BLK, etc are AR capable and, by design, great performers from a short barrel. The major consideration and benefit of such an alternate caliber is being able to deliver a larger pill into a threat’s fleshy, pink body. I still see 300BLK as a niche, boutique cartridge in the big picture but still a capable one nonetheless. Imagine the crewman with his ready mag having 5-10rds of subs loaded on top of supers. If he gets through those subs he’s decisively engaged and it won’t matter after that. The minor bonus of an alternate caliber being not giving the bad guys a couple free shooters they could easily feed later. The con being follow-on costs associated with short runs of ammunition needed for sustainment training and replenishment of stock for operational needs.
Stock. If the standard Colt stock is not a show stopper in terms of size I’d consider a storage capable stock for stowing/carrying survival items. If the addition of the proposed equipment hit weight constraints a return to a more utilitarian style can be pursued as well. Let us not forget the original AR15 based survival rifle had a simple tube stock with a formed, sheet metal butt plate


  1. I think switching from 5.56 would be a poor choice if you are using an AR15 or similar platform.
    I could see for an argument for something more like a pistol for portability, carry, concealment, etc. I’m sure there would be someone advocating something more like a welrod pistol, also arguing that a person who is trying to E&E would be better off not engaging the enemy.
    But I imagine part of the main choice with using 5.56 is that when the pilot/air crew meet up with friendly forces, they can share ammo.


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