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New 920th tactics unleash .50-caliber aircraft weapons from contingency locations

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ian Phillips, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
  • 920th Rescue Wing

When United States military personnel are trapped in enemy territory every minute counts as danger approaches and when the 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s weapons specialists were tasked to find a way to use the wing’s HH-60G Pave Hawk weapons systems as a way to defend a contingency location on the ground under enemy attack the team developed a first-of-its-kind use for the aircraft’s two GAU-18 .50-caliber machine guns.

The purpose of this initiative is to deny the enemy capture or destruction of the wing’s task force personnel and equipment at initial and temporary contingency locations (ICL/TCL) and forward alert staging areas (FSAs). This can be done by employing task force aircraft’s heavy weapons in prepared and hasty positions to create strong points in defense of locations and this will temporarily or permanently deny enemy actions until the force receives reinforcements or is able to maneuver to an alternative location.

“As a wing deployed task force we should use every weapon at our disposal and, if we aren’t, we need to figure out how. Our helicopter’s .50-caliber machine guns are rugged stand-off weapons with excellent penetration in dense foliage commonly found in jungle environments. It is irresponsible not to employ this weapon in as many applications as possible, whether mounted on our aircraft or a tripod on the ground, when in extremis situations occur,” said Col. John Dobbin, 920th Rescue Wing commander.

A team of six weapons specialists came up with a way to remove the gun from the aircraft, outfit it with a mechanical spade grip, and set it up on an M205 tripod in under three minutes to defend a position such as an ICL or TCL, forward arming and refueling points (FARP), FSA, or emergency isolating action areas when one of their own personnel recovery task force aircraft is forced down.

“This is something we can use for multiple applications and teach it to anyone for any scenario. Two people with no prior training or experience with the M205 tripod or how to install the .50 cal on it were able to remove and set up the weapon in less than three minutes. Now, a previously unprotected area in somewhere like a jungle can be protected,” said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Hendrickson, 920th Maintenance Squadron senior enlisted leader.

Having no previous data to go off of, Hendrickson and his team researched with Air Force and Army experts in weapons and tactics to determine how existing equipment might be used. Requirements included zero cost and using something that already existed with a ‘fight with who we have and with what we have right now’ mindset.

The team reached out to armory personnel for the 1st Cavalry and 120th Infantry Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas. Those conversations covered technical data the Army was using to perform maintenance on the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. This gave them a technical manual to compare the differences between the GAU-18 the 920th RQW uses and the M2, which were very similar. The support equipment led to talks on what support equipment is used for the M2 and led to finding the technical data for the M205 tripod. Concurrent discussions with Air Force units in Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Force Reserve Command showed this was the best option to proceed forward.

Historically the Pave Hawk’s weapons have had limited defensive use on the ground because of the restricted field of fire created by the hard stops on the gun mounts when the guns are attached to the aircraft, which prevent shooting the aircraft’s rotor blades. They also rely on aircraft power for the gun’s trigger. All these challenges are mitigated when employed as an in extremis ground based weapon.

“We are now in the stage of developing tactics, techniques, and procedures in coordination with security forces, special warfare, and our special mission aviators. Security Forces are the ground training experts for defense of initial and temporary contingency locations, and special warfare and mission aviators are the experts for forward staging and emergency areas. Eventually we will incorporate training our task force pilots of HH-60 and HC-130 aircraft to do this as well,” said Hendrickson.

The ability for any personnel in the wing to remove the weapons and employ them is combat multi-capable Airman at its core. These Airmen, as part of a tailorable Personnel Recovery Task Force, can now protect the force, aircraft, and resources in all phases of warfighting.

“If a weapon can be dual purposed, it should be, both in the air and on the ground. When a fight gets sporty the last thing we want is a weapon sitting idle. The work of our weapons team ensures we take the fight to the enemy to either maneuver and overcome or hold them off until reinforcements arrive,” said Dobbin.