The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has a new, unique weapon to add to its MV-22 Ospreys – capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute.
The 24th MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), received and mounted several Defense Weapon Systems at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, July 29, 2012, and ran an initial live-fire test at Kuwait’s Udairi Range.
The DWS is a belly-mounted variation of the GAU-17, a 7.62 mm mini-gun that ranges out to 1,500 meters. The weapon is mounted in the aft cargo hole of the Osprey and is operated via remote control from inside the aircraft using an interface similar to a video-game.
The purpose of the live-fire event was simple – to fire the DWS, conduct an initial test run of its capabilities, and demonstrate these capabilities to Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU, who happened to be out on the desert firing ranges conducting training as well.
The importance of the shoot was to begin advancing the capabilities of the MV-22’s DWS, said Lt. Col. Brian C. Smith Jr., commanding officer of VMM 261 (Rein).
“I have realized that this is not just about the new weapon system; this is about the incredible capabilities and the flexibility the MV-22 itself brings,” explained Smith. “I was impressed by how accurate the weapon system was. No other airframe in the world can take off vertically, fly, maneuver, and shoot with incredible accuracy while delivering pallets of cargo or carrying Marines from a ship at sea.”
The DWS achieves the best firing radius by being mounted on the belly of the aircraft, due to the Osprey’s unique capability to tilt its rotors forward for high-speed airplane mode and return vertical for helicopter landings. Before the DWS, the Osprey used a single machine gun mounted on the rear ramp, which limited the gunner’s visibility and firing radius.
The Osprey needed something different.
The DWS is relatively new – the Marine Corps released news about the purchase in 2009 – and there are few Marines with substantial operating experience using it. Fortunately, VMM 261 (Rein) has one of these Marines on their rosters.
Sgt. Ryan Alt, 24, from Houston, Texas, is an Osprey crew chief who volunteered to learn about the DWS in 2008. Most of the training was live-fire, he said. The initial handful of Marines went on four separate flights and fired 20,000 rounds through the weapon.
Since then, Alt has fired the system several times, including a 2010 demonstration shoot in Afghanistan and again when he was a student at Weapons and Tactics Instructor course in Yuma, Ariz.
“It was still very new to the fleet. The instructors did have some experience, but I had shot it several more times,” Alt said.
The DWS gunner is responsible for mounting, loading and firing the weapon. The GAU-17 is a proven weapons system and the DWS in general “is extremely accurate,” he explained.
He also described the process of engaging targets in a combat situation.
“We get permission from the pilots on what to shoot, but it is also briefed that if we find a target of opportunity, with clearance through the pilots we can engage,” he stated. “But it is a defensive weapon. If we’re taking fire, and I have positive ID of the threat firing at us, then I can get permission and fire on that target in self-defense.”
The DWS doesn’t limit the Osprey’s ability to fly or maneuver around the battlespace whatsoever and it can be employed during any normal flight parameters.
“The capabilities of this system have not yet begun to reach its full potential,” Smith concluded. “The MV-22 community has set the baseline for the tactics, techniques and procedures, however, there is plenty of room for new ideas that our young crew chiefs and pilots from the fleet will provide. This system will bring the MV-22 to the front of an entire new future of capabilities and options, giving the commander even greater flexibility. I am thoroughly impressed by the MV-22 and this new unique capability.”
The 24th MEU recently completed their sustainment training evolution in Kuwait and the aviation element has re-embarked onto the USS Iwo Jima and USS New York to continue with the remainder of their deployment.
The 24th MEU is currently deployed with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. VMM 261 (Rein) is based out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.