During the recent NDIA Armaments Forum in Indianapolis, the Air Force Security Force Center’s Col Enrico Vendetti addressed the audience on the USAF’s small arms program.
Essentially, the Air Force follows the lead of other services for many small arms programs. For instance, they are participating in both Modular Handgun System and Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle.
However, there are times when the Air Force will develop unique capabilities. Col Vendetti briefed these three examples.Remotely Operated Weapons
As the Air Force adapts to new ways of projecting Air Power, its Security Forces must develop new ways to protect aircraft and other critical assets in austere environments just as well as it does at fixed bases. Additionally, those long established facilities continue to face new threats. These operational concepts are known as Distributed Operations and Adaptive Basing.
Security Force’s goal with this program is limit exposure to enemy fire and provide effects they’ve never had before.
Based on the US Army’s Common Remote Operating System (CROWS), the plan is to incorporate the M134 and FGM-138 Javelin missile. They’ll get 3,000 rpm and a range of around 1 km from the mini-gun and 2.5 km with the Javelin, which will also allow effective engagement of armored targets.
The capability must be self-contained. The plan is to employ the systems, preconfigured in containers as well as mounted on MRAPs. Containerized systems allow for simplified transport and set up.
They are interested in weapon stabilization technologies for this system. The Air Force also wants adaptability, having considered incorporating ground launched Hellfire missiles into the capability.Improved Modular Rifle – Blue
The Security Forces Center worked with USSOCOM and USMC to investigate improvements to the M4 carbine. During the evaluation, three different configurations were developed, Improved Modular Rifle – White for SOF, Red for the Marines and Blue for the Air Force. US Army Special Operations Command has adopted individual weapon components to extend the service life and improve their M4A1s. The Marine Corps selected a different path, choosing to purchase additional M27s Infantry Automatic Rifles. But the Air Force has chosen to move forward with the concept.
The systems evaluated under the effort are said to have included components from Geissele Automatics and Daniel Defense. Although the final configuration of IMR – Blue has not been disclosed, it will include an Upper Receiver Group, 1-8 Variable Power Optic and improved trigger group.
During the evaluation, Security Forces found that their shooters were accurate within 20 MOA of targets using the current M4 and M68 Close Combat Optic configuration. This measurement was based on the average capability of the shooters and not just the capability of the firearm, optic, and ammunition. With an IMR-Blue configured carbine, that improved to 3.7 MOA. That is a significant improvement that would get any commander’s attention. I applaud the USAFSFC for being open about this and working to address it.
This is my take on this initiative. If IMR-Blue is adopted in anything close to its developmental configuration, it will be a significant improvement for the M4 carbine. Not only will there be a modular rail with enough real estate for modern weapon enablers such as night vision and thermal optics as well as lasers, but it will make room for that rail by removing the traditional front sight post in favor of a low profile gas block. If they fully follow USASOC’s lead, it will be a Mid-Gas System. Considering the Air Force has a requirement for 50,000 carbines (40,000 for Security Forces and 10,000 for Battlefield Airmen and OSI), that’s something the other services should take note of, and consider upgrading their M4 fleets. Whether or not NGSAR is adopted, M4s will be in service at least until 2040.GAU-5/A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon
The GAU-5/A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon was created in response to a requirement from Air Combat Command for a collapsible carbine which could be packed in an ejection seat.
So far, over 3,000 M4 carbines have been shipped to the Air Force Gunship Shop for modification which includes installation of a folding pistol grip and a quick barrel connector. Each weapon will be packed with 120 rounds of ammunition.
Air Force Global Strike Command is receiving the first quantities.