The other BRRRRRRT: we talk to a MiG-27 pilot about firing the devastating 30-mm ‘Gatling’ gun
Three years before the A-10 ‘Warthog’ was casting its jolie laide shadow over South Carolina, another, far faster, warplane was chewing targets to pieces with the awe-inspiring power of a 30-mm rotary cannon. The weapon was the GSh-6-30 and the aircraft was the MiG-27. Nicknamed ‘Gasha’, the 9A-21 gun was far lighter than the A-10’s GAU-8, with a greater rate of fire and a heavier projectile — it was very accurate and extremely loud. Anshuman Mainkar flew the MiG-27 with the Indian Air Force, here he gives the low-down on the other BRRRRRT.
What was the gun model and how was it mounted? “Gryazev-Shipunov GSh – 6 – 30. It was a six-barrel, Gatling-type cannon mounted on the centre fuselage. It fired 30mm calibre rounds.”
How heavy and long was the gun?
“145 kilograms and I think it was just over 6 feet in length. Anyone by the name ‘Gasha’ come to mind?”
How many rounds did the gun have and how quickly could you expend them?“It fired 260 rounds at 5000 rounds/min, taking just over 3 seconds to expend. It may seem too little, but is actually considerable for air-air bursts or air-ground tracking. Of course, cannon overheating and gun-life considerations limited the burst to about 100 rounds (one-second bursts). For practice missions, 60 rounds were sufficient, and if you were smart with the trigger, you could actually pull off two passes.”
Was the airframe/gun combination a good one? “I am not aware of the actual details going into the development/mating of the gun into the airframe, but for a cannon originally designed for shipborne (ground-to-air) operations, modifying it for aerial use must have meant shedding weight, refining balance, and mating it perfectly with the airframe. It may be appreciated that the gun-sight had to cater to a variety of weapons and on-board stations, rendering limits to rigging/placement/positioning.
It is believable that during design/limit assurance tests, there would have been a few unfortunate incidents. For one, the gun was extremely potent. Also, located centrally on the fuselage, the vibrations would definitely have been felt in every rivet and frame. Not for nothing do they say that Russian flight manuals are written in red ink, the red signifying the ‘blood’ sacrificed in proving systems and operating limits. We owe all those brave stalwarts (including those in other Warsaw Pact / partner nations who did follow-up development work) our happy landings!
Regarding the bad press on this subject, I think the cannon had matured into a good fit with the airframe by the time it entered service with the IAF. Provided it was treated and maintained well, there was absolutely no problem with it. There were laid out firing limits in the air, the anti-surge system kicked in seamlessly, and maintenance was top-notch too. Gun stoppage in the air was rare, and I always looked forward to front gun firing sorties. At ranges of 1.6 km, the target was hardly bigger than a full stop but the rounds tracked their way as if they had a will of their own (on more than a few occasions, quite literally).
Come to think of it, some people later had the audacity to put an electronic warfare support measures ‘bulb’ antenna on the chin of the aircraft. No way was the ‘Gasha’ having any of that nonsense. One gun sortie and the chin had tucked in, never to be seen again, a rather violent end to its short shared life with that beast of a gun.”
Did the gun cause damage to the aircraft?
“Rarely. Gun operations were on the whole, pretty safe, thanks to a refined design, wonderful maintenance, talented engineers and loving pilots 🙂“
Did the recoil slow the aircraft down? What was it like to fire the gun? “Trigger press was something like going into a dream state. Inception-like. Imagine the clock’s second-hand decelerating to almost nothing. To break it down for you, while doing a front gun pass on a ground target, so engrossing is the cockpit workload – rolling out perfectly, gently riding up without push-pull forces (and catering to winds), and aiming to mate the gunsight to the target at the right height/speed combination, that the feeling can best be described as minutely observing your favourite single-celled organism through an electron microscope. Oh, and all this while descending at a rate exceeding 100 m/s and accelerating to 900 kmph. Picture that – using an electron microscope on a roller coaster!
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Then comes the trigger press. Earthquakes may not be a common experience, but imagine the vibration on your game controllers times 500. In that instant, your carefully and patiently cajoled target picture (that you’ve birthed for the past 30 seconds) shakes all over the place, so much so that you can’t even observe the target anymore. The recoil is strong and were you not already peering into the gun-sight, you’d realise you’ve been pushed forward in your seat. There is the odour of cordite, smoke, and your instincts have already pulled your finger off the trigger.
There is so much violence in that moment, that the subsequent actions of getting wings level and pulling up seem almost at a snail’s pace. The speed would have washed off by 100-150 kmph in that moment, but don’t ask me how.
If you observe it from outside, as the Range officer does through his window, you’d only hear a shudder, smoke lines streaking to the target, a momentary ‘pause’ (to the trained eye, since the rounds passing provide an illusion of speed) before the aircraft turns heavenward, in bliss.
The vibrations and the force of the gun were momentary, but significant, and the possibility of disturbed airflow meant careful handling during the recovery.”
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Could the weapon knock out a tank?
“Knocking out a tank can come in three forms – Mobility Kill (M-Kill), Firepower Kill (F-Kill) and Catastrophic Kill (K-Kill). I’ll wager on M-Kill and F-Kill. But how? Considering modern Active Protection Systems (APS), it would be prudent to use the platform as part of a system, rather than a lone gunslinger. Its advantages include:Confronting the adversary with a higher volume of fire, more guns, more confusion; Direct/Indirect degradation fire can neutralise sensors and mountings, rendering armour blind, immobile and exposed; Bringing a vertical dimension to the tank fight, extending the arc of detection/countermeasures and complicating the tank’s tracking work.
Also, use of cannon in conjunction with a combination of anti-armour ordnance and platforms would be a better bet in a conventional fight.
Tactics aside, hearing the BRRRRTTTT would likely have a more than average psychological impact on the adversary. Don’t think anyone staring down a Gasha-30 barrel would come out feeling all happy and well with the world.”
Did it cause engine surges?
“It was a possibility but the anti-surge system kicked in automatically. The modified anti-surge system even expanded the envelop of front gun firing from 8000m to 9000m (altitude).It was impressive how it automatically regulated fuel supply (cut-off and on in time-fractions) to prevent overheat. As a side-effect, this caused a visible stop-start effect in-flight.
If the aircraft wasn’t mishandled during dive recovery, she wouldn’t complain, except in the rare case. And even then, recovery actions were standard.“
What was the best and worst thing about the gun?
“The best thing about the gun was the confidence it gave you. In my opinion it was the crowning jewel of the Flogger. Made it a unique customer.
The worst thing about the gun was that it couldn’t be lugged around easily and had a poor memory for faces. I couldn’t, for all my trying, smuggle it out of the base even once. It simply refused to recognise me. After all the kind words showered on her.“
Tell me something I don’t know about the gun.
“The initiation/charging process was pneumatic. It then used the gas trapped in the barrel (in contrast to hydraulic motors) to work the gun mechanism. In a sense, you could call it self-powered. This feature made it compact and modifiable for aircraft mounting (it was originally designed as a anti-air gun for shipborne operation).”
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The GAU-4 adaptation of the M-61 20mm cannon is also self-powered, tapping the gas from 3 of the barrels to work the rotary mechanism. An electric inertia starter merely spins the barrels up to speed, then cuts out when the firing starts.