WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.
– After a decade of war, the improvised explosive device has proven to be a tough weapon to defeat. Despite numerous counter-IED efforts, it is still the leading killer of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan.
But what if the enemy was detonating roadside bombs underneath vehicles with nobody in them? That is the idea soldiers have begun experimenting with in the desert just north of the Mexico border. The "Ghost Ship" concept allows soldiers to remotely control a ground vehicle to act as a decoy for those behind it.
Imagine an Army convoy traveling a dangerous route known to be a hotspot for IEDs. When the lead vehicle reaches a certain point, insurgents detonate the bomb. But not a soul is hurt, because the target is an unmanned Ghost Ship being driven by a soldier in the back seat of another vehicle farther back in the pack.
“The concept is outstanding,” Spc. Jose Garcia told National Defense this week at the site of the Army's second Network Integration Evaluation. Soldiers here are evaluating dozens of devices to ensure that they can “talk” to each other within the Army's battle network.
A soldier remotely drives the decoy with a steering wheel, brake and gas pedal. Cameras and monitors provide a 360-degree view of the vehicle's surroundings.
Soldiers have been driving unmanned Humvees outfitted with the system, but it can be installed on other ground assets, including the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.
“It would be a great advantage [against] the IED threat to put a remote vehicle as the lead vehicle,” Pfc. Antonio DeAnda said. “It could take the blast and we could recover the vehicle.”
Homemade bombs are a ubiquitous problem for U.S. troops. DeAnda struggled to give a rough estimate of the number of IED blasts he encountered during a 15-month deployment to Iraq. After a few seconds trying to remember, he admitted that there were too many to recall. “Countless,” he said.
Insurgents in Iraq would place IEDs behind guardrails and poles at bends in the highways, exactly the type of situation the Ghost Ship could exploit, DeAnda said.
Soldiers have trained on this system for more than a month. They have discovered that it can also be used for reconnaissance and other situations that require stand-off distances.
“We're very proficient with it,” Garcia said. Soldiers are quickly becoming comfortable driving the Ghost Ship at speeds topping 30 mph. “If you could paint a perfect picture, we'll get this thing to go up to convoy speed,” he added.
That perfect picture also would include more cameras and the ability to zoom in on certain situations, Garcia added.