In the late 1950s the U.S. Navy began experimenting with weapon-carrying drone helicopters as a means of upgrading the undersea warfare capabilities of Gearing (DD-710)- and Allen M. Summer (DD-692)-class destroyers. Many of these World War II-vintage ships had just completed a fleet rehabilitation and modernization (FRAM) program designed to make them more efficient for Cold War naval missions. Specifications called for a drone antisubmarine helicopter (DASH) with a cruising speed of 80 knots that could carry either a nuclear depth charge or antisubmarine torpedoes. A minimum flight time of 25 minutes and the ability to hover for at least 20% of the total flight time were considered essential. It operated from small helicopter hangars on FRAM destroyers. Basic surface and air surveillance radars, remote control equipment, a maintenance team, and trained drone shipboard operators rounded out the DASH shipboard suite. Radar tests and dummy weapon drops against submarines were encouraging; eventually, 746 drones were outfitted for shipboard use.
The Fleet Needs Rotary-Wing UCAVs
By Lieutenant Commander Steven Wills, U.S. Navy