How The Navy Failed DASH

    The reality is that DASH does not exist in the Navy today and along with that, its advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capabilities that it provided to each destroyer it served on, also does not exist in the Navy today.  

    The frequently asked question of "Why is it that an aircraft that was so ahead-of-its-time, then in the 1960s, is not used by our Navy/military, today" from our public and military visitors alike needs to be answered and here at the Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation (GHHF), we felt that the NAVY should answer that question.
     Accordingly, here is an internal Navy memo, since declassified, written by Lieutenant Commander Ira B. Anderson USN in 1970 to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) which offers a glimpse of the internal struggle waged by the Naval Aviators which were frightened at the possibility of being replaced by Drones and the Drone supporters who were convinced that being freed of concern over the loss of human life, true expansion of the military applications of Drones/UAVs could be attained furthering our nations offensive and defensive capabilities. 

    In that struggle for control, the Navy failed to support its' state-of-the-art UAV program (the first of its kind in the world) and therefore failed DASH.

Please be aware that this internal conflict continues to this day, with UAV programs consistently being underfunded to the point of guaranteed failure with the resulting lessening of the strength of our armed forces.

28 September 1970

From: Lieutenant Commander Ira B. ANDERSON, 633448/1100, USN

To:    Chief of Naval Operations

Via:  (1)   Commanding Officer, U.S. Navy DASH Training Unit
        (2)    Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla FOUR
        (3)    Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet
        (4)    Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet

Subj: Status of QH-50 Drone Helicopter

Ref: (a) LCDR I. B. ANDERSON letter of 9 January 1970

1.  The purpose of this letter is to present a synopsis of the present status of the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) weapon system, again focus attention on the possible additional uses of the QH-50 drone, and submit recommendations pertinent to the system. As of 22 September 1970, 4,060 manned helicopters had been lost in Vietnam. It is felt that the following paragraphs contain information that could be used to reduce the loss of personnel that must have ensued.

2.  Extensive newspaper and television coverage has recently been given to a report, attributed to Congressman YATES (Democrat from Illinois) and the Government Accounting Office, which alluded to the possibility that the system is of no value because of loss of drones and because the system seems to have been poorly administered at, during and since its original conception and inception into service. It was also insinuated that the U. S. Navy was, or has been, guilty of a blunder in the expenditure of large sums of monies in the perpetration and perpetuation of the system. No remarks will be made about any of those points except the last.

3.  The Navy was faced with the responsibility for the safety of the shores of the country and the freedom of the high seas. It is respectfully submitted that the originators of the QH-50 drone could foresee that it was one of the means for fulfilling that responsibility. They (and DASH) cannot be brought to task for the inabilities of the destroyer to acquire the target. The allegations of the people, both officer and enlisted (C.O. to plane captain), who have been closely associated with DASH can be summarized in one statement: "Given acquisition, we can kill submarines".

4.  “DASH” aside, the QH-50 still exists in inventory. It is a system which has not been significantly up-dated since its inception but, never-the-less has capabilities that have never been investigated - - much less exploited. In other words, no money has been spent and no "Yankee" ingenuity has been expended except at DASH Training Units to determine whether the drone can be used in other areas or even to improve its performance as a weapon delivery system. 

5. Some of the problems that have plagued the QH-50 drone were caused by:

    (a) Rapid turnover of experienced people, both officer and enlisted. Naval Aviation also has such rapid turnover but their people at least remain aviators.

    (b) Quickly trained, totally inexperienced officer controllers who have been used for an average of two years as purely DASH controllers (for which they have been well qualified) and then have been lost forever to the system.

    (c) Lack of training devices. Controllers have been exposed continually to classroom lectures on emergency procedures but no facilities have existed for giving training in in-flight emergencies. Reference here is made to an aircraft simulator such as the ANT-18 or C-11 Link trainer.

    (d) No centralized authority. The system has been operated by surface types and administered by aviators. NAVAIRSYSCOM has been required to fund a system, which was not under its operational control. COMCRUDESLANT/PAC have been required to operate a system, which was last in line for aviation money. There have even been arguments as to whether the drone is an aircraft (hear-say).

    (e) Lack of familiarity with the capabilities/limitations of the system on the part of people in authority has resulted in limited or improper use of the drone. Three days at the training command could have made them knowledgeable not only in tactics but, also in the avionics/mechanics of the system. 

    (f) PMS (Program Management Systems) has been a bone of major contention and despite the efforts of several conscientious and talented-people it has remained a problem because a special system (combination of surface and aviation systems) was originated for the drone. Refer to last sentence of paragraph 5(d) above.

    (g) Poor logistics support as a result of (a) through (f) above.

6.  No single person or command has been responsible for the troubles that have been encountered with DASH. Contrarily, all the people who have worked with the system deserve a "well done" because the system has performed beyond expectations even while suffering with the problems listed. 
    Needless to say, the unfavorable publicity given the system has had detrimental effects on the morale of everyone who has ever been tasked with using the QH-50 drone and in particular on those who have and do believe that a tremendous potential exists in droned equipments. Scuttlebutt has suggested that the drone was originally designed for a lifetime of 25 flight hours. If so, it has exceeded expectations by some 400 per cent. No official correspondence is available to prove or disprove these figures. Only a search of files in the cognizant bureau could produce such correspondence. Cognizance of the DASH problems by personnel associated with LAMPS could obviate or lessen the impact when, or if, those problems are encountered in that system.

7.  Reference (a) forwarded information on the QH-50 and recommended that it be evaluated for possible use in the amphibious environment. Other areas where the drone might be used to reduce the burden on and minimize losses of manned aircraft are:

(a)     ASMD (Anti-Shipping Mine Detection)

(b)    Gunfire Support

(c)    Psychological Warfare

(d)    Mapping

(e)    Delivery of many types of weapons

(f)     ECM (Electronic Countermeasures)

(g)    ECCM (Electronic Counter-Countermeasures)

(h)    UNREP (underway replenishment)

(i)     Inshore Undersea Warfare

(j)     Mine Laying/sweeping

(k)    VERTREP (vertical replenishment)

(l)     Sensor Platform

(m)   Surveillance/Reconnaissance

(n)    Blockade

(o)    SAR (Search and Rescue)

(p)    Communications Relay

(q)    Test and evaluation of other long range systems 

Some of these were mentioned in reference (a) but are repeated to show that the QH-50 is truly worthy of closer scrutiny.

8.  The following area uses that have been made of the system but have not received general publicity:  

    (a)    A television equipped QH-50 Drone was used to remotely monitor the project LANPHER underground atomic blast at Mercury test site in Nevada on 18 October 1967. The drone, controlled from a station 12 miles distant, was flown over ground zero during and after the blast at an altitude of 1000 feet. The controller had no navigational or tracking equipment and used an ordinary road map for guidance. It is not known what use was made of the video tape obtained on that occasion by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)  but, it is understood that the AEC personnel were sufficiently impressed to make an unsuccessful effort to obtain QH-50 drones and a control station.

    (b)    In a test off San Clemente Island, a destroyer was completely hidden for 7 minutes by a QH-50 Drone-laid smokescreen in 5 knots of wind. This capability could easily be extended.

9.    The Following recommendations are submitted:

    (a)    That administration of the remaining QH-50 assets be centralized under the cognizance of either CNO (Chief of Naval Operations), CHNAVMAT (Chief of Naval Material) or COMNAVAIRSYSCOM (Commander, Naval Air Systems Command).

    (b)    That full responsibility and authority for those assets be assigned to an officer of the rank of Captain. He could easily be fully briefed by the Commanding Officer, U.S. Navy DASH Training Unit and the Aviation Officer on the staff of COMCRUDESLANT. This Officer should be a member of one of the staffs mentioned in (a) above (possibly a branch or department head) and should control the assets through the appropriate logistics organization and the U.S. Navy DASH Training Unit through its Commanding Officer. Implementation of these recommendations would eventually eliminate the problems listed in paragraph 5 and allow easy liaison should interest be shown in the areas listed in paragraph 7.

    (c)    That this letter be made available to the office responsible for the administering the LAMPS system.

GHHF Final Note: LAMPS stood for Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System and essentially was a manned helicopter to serve off the then existing DASH flight decks of the GARCIA class Frigates as well as the larger-decked destroyers and cruisers replacing the smaller Gearing and Sumner destroyers which DASH had served on. Naval Aviators will quickly state how LAMPS was a success, but by the Navy's actions in abandoning their own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capability in 1970 ( the most advanced at that time), that led to a decrease in capability. While the QH-50 DASH was used for a variety of "suicide-type-missions" like Gun Spotting and flying in heavy weather no manned aircraft would dare to fly in, resulting in losses, no Navy LAMPS-Manned aircraft was ever used in such a manner and thus capabilities decreased.  Yet, comparing the QH-50 DASH to any manned helicopter is basically unfair, as the QH-50 was designed and built as a pure weapons-delivery platform that was re-usable. While the smallness and the compactness of the coaxial rotor system would have lended itself nicely to a manned platform, the U.S. Navy did not pursue that whereas the Russian Navy did and uses their KAMOV Coaxial Helicopters in all Navy activities. Ask yourself, "What did the Russian Navy realize, that the Americans did not?"
    So, who was right on the UAV question? Today, the Navy has NO UAV capability at all and depends on the Air Force for their reconnaissance and targeting data. While the QH-50 SNOOPY reconnaissance variant gave EVERY SINGLE destroyer commander his own, ship-based reconnaissance capability in 1969, today, the U.S. Navy's destroyer has SH-60B Sea Hawks, manned helicopters whose capability is not any greater than when they replaced DASH in 1970 with SH-2D Sea Sprites.  It can be argued that while the Naval Aviators have secured their position back on Destroyer decks during the past 35 years, the Destroyer as a platform has lost the multi-missionization that the QH-50 system was evolving at the time of DASH cancellation because the basic, risk-taking missions for the destroyer that the QH-50 performed, are not performed by any-ship based helicopter.

Another question that the Gyrodyne Foundation often receives is "Why doesn't a defense contractor / manufacturer try to field a Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle today? (VTOL-UAV)".  The simple answer is that DoD contractors make more money from manned-systems than UAVs. Why would Boeing build a competitor to their AH-64D Apache Helicopter? Why would Sikorsky build a competitor to their SH-60B series of Navy helicopters? UAVs are generally cut-rate, disposable systems whereas manned-safe platforms are built to a much higher standard with multiple redundant safety systems. The QH-50, on the other hand, didn't even have a feed-back loop for the controller to see if the helicopter was following his commands.......he had to rely on a radar-return to see a course change!
    With today's Navy controlled by the concerns of Naval Aviators, true expansion of what UAV's can bring to the warfighter in the field is now the purview of the Air Force who fly regular 24-hour long reconnaissance missions with their RQ-8A Global Hawk UAVs. It should be stated that in 2003, the Gyrodyne Foundation did participate in a conference conducted by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Newport, R.I. There, GHHF personnel did show that a Seahawk sized, but not man-safe, QH-50 Advanced Drone could fly for over 24 hrs and still carry enough reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting systems and ordnance assets to kill numerous targets and be a force multiplier for any ship that carried it.....if given the chance. The knowledge has been made available.....its up to Navy if it wants to continue to be relevant against the modern threats that face America.
    When DASH was shot-down on a mission or crashed at sea, you ordered another drone from a Destroyer Tender. When a Sea Hawk crashes today, you have 6 funerals to arrange. That is today's Navy; without any UAV capability, what-so-ever. We at the GHHF, wished the Navy would evolve, at least to the level of what DASH provided as an expendable UAV platform, instead of rebuffing what an entire generation of Navy personnel pioneered and deployed from 1955 to 1970, by not having anything built upon that past knowledge, for a mission that needs to be flown again.
For those Navy Pioneers of long ago, this entire web site is dedicated to, as their contribution to the defense of the United States of America.

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