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General Electric GAU-17/A Minigun Six-barrel rotating anti-personnel vehicle-mounted weapon (1965)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/29/2015

The 7.62mm GAU-17/A minigun is the crew-served version of the Vietnam-era M134 aircraft-mounted 20mm gatling gun.

The General Electric GAU-17/A "minigun" represents the crew-served version of the Vietnam-era General Electric M134 helicopter-mounted weapon system. The GAU-17 operation follows the Gatling rotary-style munitions delivery debuted by Richard J. Gatling in the 1880's. The concept once-again proved sound when revisited after World War 2 when an electric motor was installed to supply power to the needed rotary action (Gatling's original attempts featured a hand crank rotating action). The GAU-17/A is a standard weapon system still in use today by conventional and special forces vehicles.

The original General Electric Gatling gun attempt was developed under the project name of "Vulcan". The program produced the M61 Gatling system, firing 20mm ammunition. With the increasing use of helicopters as armed assault ships, the M61 was revised to become the relatively portable M134 Gatling fun firing the NATO standard 7.62mm percussion primed round at an impressive 6,000 rounds per minute. The M134 was a prominent fixture on US Army helicopter and light aircraft platforms throughout the Vietnam War.

The GAU-17/A, although essentially similar in most respects to the US Army M134, differs slightly from its counterpart in that it is designed specifically as a crew-served weapon firing from 360-degree trainable, manually-operated pintle mounting and features a selector switch for a "low" rate firing at 2,000 rounds-per-minute or "high" rate firing at 4,000 rounds-per-minute (the M134 fired at a fixed 6,000 rounds-per-minute). The GAU-17/A fires the same 7.62mm ammunition as the M134. Ammunition "cook-off" is avoided by having a deliberate delay installed in the firing action activated after the trigger is released to ensure all six barrels are cleared of loaded ammunition. Full magazines can be issued in various quantity amounts from 1,500 rounds to 4,400 rounds as needed.

Broken down, the GAU-17/A system consists of the 6-barrel rotary M134D gun system, the electrically-powered drive motor, a delinking ammunition feeder, ammunition canister, a flexible ammunition feed and the electrical gun control assembly and associated cabling for the power supply. The barrels are fitted with a flash suppressor made of titanium and the barrel unit rotates counterclockwise when viewing the weapon from behind the trigger.

GAU-17/A systems are still a highly valued weapon in the US military for their heralded suppression effects on enemy positions (or their simple deterrent effect). Designations of the M134 Gatling gun family vary depending on their use - collectively, the slang family name may be simply "Vulcan". The US Army designation is the M134 while the USAF uses designation GAU-2B/A. The USN uses the designations of GAU-17/A and GAUSE-17/A.

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Specifications for the
General Electric GAU-17/A Minigun
Six-barrel rotating anti-personnel vehicle-mounted weapon

Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: General Electric / Dillon Aero, Incorporated - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1965

Overall Length: 749 mm (29.49 in)
Barrel Length: 558.00 mm (21.97 in)
Weight (Empty): 35.27 lb (16.00 kg)

Caliber*: 7.62x51mm
Action: Electrically-Powered Six-Barrel Rotary Weapon
Feed: 1000
Muzzle Velocity: 2,800 ft/sec (853 m/sec)
Rate-of-Fire: 4,000 rounds per minute
Range: 3,280 ft (1,000 m; 1,093 yds)
Sights: Fixed

* Listed caliber(s) for firearms may be model dependent if more than one model type/chambering was produced. Always consult official manufacturer's information or a licensed dealer.

"Vulcan" - General Electric Project Designation

M61A1 - 20mm cannon; initial GE gatling system to be standardized in US military service.

M134 - US Army designation; scaled-down version 7.62mm caliber version of the M61A1 for use in helicopter gunships; 6,000 fixed rate-of-fire.

GAU-2B/A - USAF Designation

GAU-17/A - US Navy Designation; crew-served version of the M134 with selective firing modes for 2,000rpm or 4,000rpm; pintle mounting.

GAUSE-17/A - US Navy Designation

United States; United Kingdom