WHITE SANDS, NM: Parked out on the dusty plains of the New Mexican desert, the Army Humvee looked like every other combat truck stationed at the service’s sprawling test facility here — except for one big difference. This Humvee was completely unmanned.
The vehicle was one of two Humvee being tested under the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization’s “Ghost Ship” program. The Ghost Ship is essentially a command and control kit that allows “complete remote operation of the vehicle by an operator,” in a separate vehicle, according to a JIEDDO document. Troops from the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division were testing two Ghost Ship Humvees and two control trucks as part the Army’s latest network integration exercise here Pfc. Antonio DeAnda said. They have been able to control the Humvee drones from up to a mile and-a-half away, according to DeAnda. But program officials have been keeping the control trucks within a few hundred meters of the Humvee drones during most of the tests, he added.
But the Ghost Ship is far from being ready for prime time, Spc. Jose Garcia said. Garcia was driving one of the unmanned Humvees from a control vehicle on the range. One of the major flaws in the system is the fixed position of the cameras used to navigate the Humvee drone, Garcia said. The limited view of the camera leaves a number of blind spots for the Ghost Ship driver, according to Garcia. Enemy forces can exploit those blind spots to take out the Humvee drone before the driver can react. Service testers considered mounting the cameras on a modified version of the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, DeAnda added. A CROWS system would give Ghost Ship drivers a full range of view when controlling the drone. Matt Way, JIEDDO’s program integrator for the Ghost Ship, could not say if the Army had completely abandoned the idea of using CROWS for the system.
The system also needs a global positioning system to be truly effective in the field, Garcia said. Ghost Ship drivers currently use basic grid coordinates on a map to navigate the Humvee drone, according to Garcia. But drivers will need the precision of a GPS guidance system to move the drone through the complicated and difficult terrain in Afghanistan.
One feature that was a hit with Garcia and DeAnda were the bomb-detecting “rollers’ attached to the rear of the unmanned Humvee. The rollers are similar to those used on the Army’s Buffalo Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, according to DeAnda. The heavily-armored Buffalo MRAPs are one of the Army’s main tools to sweep roadways of IEDs. The Army plans to use the Ghost Ship and Buffalo in tandem to do route clearance missions in Afghanistan, DeAnda said.
Way declined to comment on specific Ghost Ship capabilities or whether they would be teamed with Buffalos. He did note the Ghost Ship was a spin-off of another JIEDDO program using unmanned ground drones to detect IEDs. The Ghost Ship’s predecessor did see action in Iraq and was used to help build the Ghost Ship system being tested here, Way said.
The post-testing reports coming from soliders like DeAnda and Garcia will be invaluable to JIEDDO as they fine tune the Ghost Ship program, Way said. “We are still kind of crawling with this,” in terms of capabilities being planned for the Ghost Ship. Those reports and recommendations could help get the Ghost Ship into the field faster, Way added.
The Ghost Ship program comes as the Army is considering eliminating thousands of Humvees from its arsenal. Service officials are putting together plans to trim a majority of its 144,000 light tactical combat trucks down to just over 50,000. That force will consist mostly of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles supplemented by all-terrain versions of the MRAP and a handful of upgraded Humvees.