B5 Systems

US Air Force Small Arms Update

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 Gunsmith 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.

43 Responses to “US Air Force Small Arms Update”

  1. James says:

    Is that the dolos system on the Aircrew Self Defense weapon?

  2. Joe says:

    “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.”

    So the Air Force is saying their personnel can’t hit a mansized target past 100m.

    Sounds like they have bigger issues that gear isn’t going to solve.

    • Joglee says:

      Has a lot to do with how the KAC RAS causes deflection and poi shift.

      • Joe says:

        Not buying it.
        You have Marines qualifying at 500m with the same RAS without any issues. Again, this is 20MOA. The Marines aren’t shooting a 1000inch group at 500m.

        If we want to talk about lasers mounted to rails that’s one thing. But this is talking about day optics.

        • SSD says:

          We aren’t talking about Marines. For one thing, Marines don’t use the M68. For another, they spend a lot more time in Marksmanship, both initially and in sustainment training. And, we aren’t fixating on the rail.

          • Kirk says:

            So… Lemme see if I understand this right: The problem with the Air Force’s M4s basically boils down to a training and skill-at-arms issue, yes?

            And, the solution is the classic “better gadget”, rather than fixing training?

            Methinks this is going to result in the same 20 MOA issue all over again, because they’re addressing the wrong part of the problem equation. The only thing that’s gonna change is that Airman Jones is going to be spreading his/her rounds out over 20 MOA with a slightly different rifle…

            • SSD says:

              Except that, those same shooters improved with a better weapon.

              Don’t get caught up in the fallacy that more training is the answer to everything. Training is imperative. But if it were everything, we’d still be beating each other to death with rocks.

              • Yawnz says:

                Nah, we’d still be using our fists because no one would’ve had enough sense to say “Hey, let me whack someone with this heavy-ass rock, it’ll probably work better!”

              • Kirk says:

                Somebody really needs to familiarize all y’all with the Hawthorne Effect.

                For those who aren’t, here’s the Wikipedia on what that is:

                “The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect[1][2]) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.[3][4] The original research at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, on lighting changes and work structure changes such as working hours and break times was originally interpreted by Elton Mayo and others to mean that paying attention to overall worker needs would improve productivity. Later interpretations such as that done by Landsberger suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to temporary increases in workers’ productivity. This interpretation was dubbed “the Hawthorne effect”.”

                Basically, what this tells us is that when you pay attention to a particular “something”, like marksmanship training, the people you’re testing will often produce illusory improvements jin performance because of the fact you’re paying attention to them, improvements that very often don’t get reproduced when you take the changes you were testing out into other organizations and areas. They found this out with things like factory lighting and changes to work hours–The subjects of the initial studies knew they were being studied, and that was what was actually producing the improvements in performance.

                I’d just about guarantee you that the things the Air Force observed in the test subject population with regards to improvements in marksmanship ain’t gonna magically show up out in the field, where bored instructors do half-ass training before the semi-annual reduced distance paper target qualifications happen…

          • Joe says:

            We’re obviously not talking about Marines and M68 vs RCO is irrellevant here.
            The point is the Air Force is claiming they can’t do better than 20MOA at 100m with the same rifle the Army is using, that is specced to be capable of hitting a point target (which is defined as a 20in spread) at 450-500m.
            That’s pure deception. There are much more honest ways to get what you want without claiming the rifle is essentially a blunderbuss.

            • theDude says:

              Haha, with a modern muzzleloader i can shoot a 2.5-3inch group at 100 yards with iron sites. Those 20moa shooters should be ashamed.

  3. Darwin Munky says:

    I sure as hell could with that same M4/M68 combo. The majority of us were fine.

    However, qualifying twice a year on a simulated distance paper target is not good training. Lets not pretend that it is. I was very disappointed with USAF in almost any firearm doctrine save for their duty pistol being carried with round in chamber and on “fire”.

    • SSD says:

      This is quite a bit of the problem.

      • Kirk says:

        I’d say it’s more than “quite a bit”. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that it’s 99.99% of it, and that putting a shiny new (and, quite expensive…) optic on top of that M4 ain’t gonna help squat.

        And, out in the real world, without the extensive training the SOCOM types get? I’ll lay you long odds that the tunnel vision effect produced by that sort of scope is gonna have serious impact on little things like peripheral vision and situational awareness, resulting in Airman Jones not even observing targets of opportunity until they shoot him/her in the head.

        Optics are great aids for folks that have the training and experience to take advantage of them; lowest-common-denominator types, like the Air Force insists on creating and supporting…? Yeah; not so much. This looks to me like giving a kid in driver’s education something like a Dodge Viper to drive, and expecting that kid to do as well as a professional race driver.

    • Ton E says:

      Shooting a simulated 300 meter target at 10 meters is just as good! *Sarcasm off*

  4. M4 user says:

    People are misunderstanding the 20 MOA thing. It is not a 20 MOA shooter group. It is-

    M4 with RAS and 2.5-10x magnified optic using MK262 MOD 1. Zeroed neutrally without any outside influence on the handguard. 1×10 round groups fired at 100m and 200m for baseline. Then the same repeated from 9 different positions=

    Prone Mag monopod
    Prone Sandbagged
    Prone with sling
    Prone with bipod
    Prone with handguard resting on wood
    Prone with guard resting on metal
    Prone using VFG
    Kneeling using barricad (rifle supported in rear)
    Prone with light and laser attached

    Each position was measured and plotted on every target. Target was an NRA B-8 bull overlaid on a standard E-Type. When complete the targets from an unfloated M4 averaged over 20moa for all shots. For an optimized M4 (FF stiff handguard, Geissele SSF, etc) the average was 3.7moa.

    The testing was done with 20 shooters from multiple branches. Shooters ranged from “average” infantry skill to high master Service Rifle competitors and top level 3-gunners.

    People can think what they want about USAF “shooting”, however this test was done correctly and has been verified twice since. It will be verified again shortly.

    • SSD says:

      Thanks for clarifying. I understood it to be an Air Force-only experiment. However, I stand by my appreciation that the Air Force Security Forces wants to fix this.

      • M4 user says:


        It’s been done three ways by the organization that brought it to light- unit pure, multi branch, and USAF pure. Results were similar for each to the stated results in the article. To their credit Security Forces Center did the right thing when presented with the data and verified it. The upper, optic, and modifications come directly from the users (primarily BA)- this was not a top down decision.

        It’s also important to understand that the weapons used were the same for “M4” and “optimized”. I.E. ten M4’s were shot as issued, then those same M4’s got new handguards, etc.

        • Kirk says:

          Can you point us to where the actual study protocol and data are, or is that classified?

          I’m still trying to wrap my head around 20 MOA. If that’s an accurate figure for real-world field results, then it sure seems like I wasted a bunch of time even trying to train troops to qualify, over the years.

          • M4 user says:

            Not my place to say anymore.

            But this is very easy to demonstrate. Use the VFG. Measure the force put into it from “trained” shooters under both physical and mental stress. Have those shooters get a prone sandbagged zero. A true zero with good ammo (MK262) at 100m with 3×10 round groups to center. Take that exact same gun and shooter and have them shoot 10 round groups at 100m with the exact same force they put into the VFG. Measure the center point of impact shift between base zero and VFG. The average user had a shift between 11-19moa.

            That’s what’s being discussed, not can a person make a hit at 300m doing everything correct. Take ANY infantry unit with standard non-FF M4’s and make them shoot a stress test from multiple conventional and unconventional positions under time constraints off of common barricades at bullseye targets placed at 100m. Pull the target- you will see good shooters have a 20” or so vertical deviation. Take the exact same shooters and give them a FF rail and do it again. Pull the targets- you will see less than half of the vertical deviation as you had with the non FF rail. Yes the Marines shoot to 500 yards. Ok, they also have different zeros based on position, and they have to hold for it or they miss a massive target. Do you think that’s because the gun can tell it’s being shot from sitting versus prone? Or because the sling is pulling the barrel out of alignment with the optic as it was initially zeroed?

            Proper training is extremely important but it will only take someone so far if their barrel isn’t pointed where their sights are because the gun is gripped or rested different.

            • Neil says:

              My rifle can tell its being shot from sitting to prone. Can’t yours? It’s magical 🙂

              Kirk, you’re conflating precision with accuracy, and there’s likely three causal factors of your experiences :

              1. Accuracy standards were low
              2. Targets were too big
              3. Shooters were not ever called upon to fire from supported and or loaded positions.

              M4A1s are better, but you still see POI shift combined with a notable increase in weight.

    • James says:

      Looking at the positions used in the testing, I have zero doubt about it. We all know barrel contact with hard surfaces does this. RAS might add a little stiffness actually,but you’re still just adding another hard object between the barrel and the rest.

  5. Lose_Game says:

    To all those saying this is an “equipment solution to a training problem”–would you rather go into combat with an URGI or, essentially, a SOPMOD block 1? Under identical range conditions, would you shoot better with a LPVO or an Aimpoint?

    And AFAIK POI shift with a non-FF rail slung up is like 3 MOA. I doubt the RAS is the problem.

    • Kirk says:

      I’d rather go into combat with a reliable mid-grade weapon I had plenty of trigger time on than to go there with some souped-up uberwaffe that they gave me enough rounds to get a half-ass zero with and called it good…

      20 MOA is mind-boggling–That calls to mind the sort of accuracy I’d expect from a goddamn unrifled musket, and if that’s what they’re saying they’re getting from the control weapons, then I want to know where the hell those are coming from. Are they comparing clapped-out junk that just came in off the training ranges or back from Afghanistan, or are they comparing factory-new weapons to factory-new weapons?

      They pulled this same shit before, with the dust tests–The M4s were rack-grade stuff out of the training stocks at Benning, with old, worn-out magazines. The stuff they were testing against were brand-new weapons, with new magazines. Wonder why the M4 did so poorly…?

      You tell me that there was a noticeable difference between the issued non-FF handguard and all that, and then I might take someone’s word on the tests. But, 20 MOA? WTF? That’s not even slightly reasonable, if I’m understanding how this test was constructed.

      The only time I ever saw an M16 or M4 demonstrate that kind of weirdness was when the muzzle throats were shot the hell out, or the barrels were being seriously warped by PFC Stronginthearm wrapping the sling around his arm and flexing like Lou Ferrigno…

  6. SVGC says:

    Why the rehash of the GAU 5/A moniker?

    • EODFish says:

      Only a guess because I am only familiar enough with the program to sound stupid but the initial concept was filled with cut down GAU-5s from storage. SERE has been pushing this seat gun concept real hard and gained traction very quickly.

      • SVGC says:

        Intersting. I would love to see more on this. Any idea if it’s coming with an optic or just irons?

    • SSD says:

      Great question. GAU is a nomenclature for an aircraft weapon (Gun, Aircraft, Unit) and it is to be used as a component of an ejection seat survival kit. At least, that’s what I’ve got.

    • DSM says:

      Allegedly (and I know for a fact it isn’t true) all the original GAU-5’s and their various A and A/A variants were upgraded to GUU-5P standard as part of the A2 mod kit abortion the AF bought into. The GUU-5P had 1/7 lightweight or M4 barrels installed for M855. They were straight up Frankenguns.
      My bet is a legacy nomenclature but I’m going to follow up on this with some buddies.

    • FWIW: The PowerPoint slide says “GUA”, not the original “GAU.” Typo?

  7. Neil says:

    Great job on reporting this, Eric!

    In this thread, we learn who understands the nature and behavior of free floated or non free floated configurations!

    It’s the difference of precision to accuracy, folks. Even a burned out M4 will post 7 MOA groups with M855. However, place that rail on any means of support, and that average point of impact shifts WAY further than most understand, up to 15” in a given direction.

    The overall distribution of impacts from position to position, means of support to means of support = 20+ MOA cone of fire.

    What is the point of $1K+ optics if one can’t predict their point of impact? If impacts don’t correlate with the reticle (by where the reticle is pointed), the optic is near useless. Floating the rail is the solution, and a cost effective one at that.

    The reason the Corps gets away with it on T1A, is because shooters see their first miss (valuable information) and make a hold correction to compensate the rest of the string for sling tension/barrel deflection. This doesn’t mean the shooter can predict the level of deflection if circumstances change.

    This is one reason the M27 is so popular in the Corps – but that presents a whole new slew of issues mechanically, logistically, and operationally.

  8. Alpha2 says:

    I served in the USAF Security Forces, 820th at Moody AB from 03-08 and from my experience if I had not had the chance to shoot my Pops Colt Match HBAR nearly 2500 plus rounds there is no way I would gotten the hang of shooting the M4 and felt proficient with the modest amount of training even a “high op tempo” SF like the 820th was at the time…and we probably saw more range time than the average SF. In no way am I some small arms expert but I gotta believe the more you train with and use any weapons system the more proficient you will become with it, regardless of what latest whiz bang gadgets or optics. I know optics, free float rail, mid gas system, trigger, etc can all aid in helping the shooter but nothing helps as much as repetition and getting the chance to put rounds down range IMHO.

    • Ton E says:

      820 gets a lot more than the average SFS member. What’s sad is the average SFS member only shoots when they qualify. I can count on one hand the number of people in my SF squadron who get trigger time on their own time.

  9. DSM says:

    Rick Vendetti is a prior Army, SF tab wearing dude. I remember when he was a Captain down at the 820th.

    The M4 is pushing 20yrs of age now. The M4 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so incremental upgrades just make sense. I’d say RCOs would give more value than LPVOs but I don’t know their specific objectives.
    Yes, AF marksmanship training needs a HUGE shift. I retrained into CATM for my last few years so trust me, no one will convince me otherwise. Rifle qualification is essentially a grouping exercise at 25m, basically a modified Alt Course C in Army speak if my memory serves correctly. Most bases, for as big as airfields are, don’t have sufficient real estate for the SDZs an impact range requires. We can play nice with available local Army posts or other facilities but are now in competition with said posts for time on their ranges, not to mention the economical impact.
    If I were king for a day, the daily gun toters would qualify via the standard 50-300m Record Fire a minimum of twice a year, threshold, with quarterly being the objective. If you gotta travel to do it, so be it. Base ranges would be upgraded to accommodate at least a 100m semi-enclosed, baffled range to mitigate SDZ issues. This would start the transition of general, base population marksmanship training towards a newer and better phase of qualification. No more arming groups for them, everyone shoots annually. Guess what? You have a current Expert qual, you get 5 points for WAPS or whatever they’re calling it now. You put money on it, people will pay attention.

  10. MPM says:

    Meanwhile, some fighter units are pursuing an M16A2 cut down just in front of the front sight post to carry broken down in the ejection seat kit. Idea is that if a fighter pilot or crew ejected, they could hit the ground, put the lower and upper together and begin evasion.

    • DSM says:

      An armed, downed aircrewman has a twofold benefit. Anyone looking for him will be less inclined to go seriously rooting around any hidey holes for fear of getting one between the eyes. The other is giving the crewman a morale boost by having something in their hands.
      The drawbacks are the same crewman may not be as focused on evasion and during rescue. Ask Scott O’Grady about waiting for the rescue force to grab you before rushing right on them.
      I’d harvest the core of the GAU and field it in a unique caliber with a basic, permanently attached suppressor. Suppressed if that crewman has to use it for any reason; defense or harvesting meat, and, in a unique caliber to prevent giving the bad guys an easily fed gun to add to their own resources. Anything can be wildcatted of course but don’t make it easy for them.