Marines take lead on unmanned cargo

The Marine haven’t waited for the Army or Air Force to take the lead on unmanned aerial drones or unmanned trucks when it comes to delivering cargo.

The Corps announced the completion of their first test of multiple unmanned trucks simulating a cargo convoy using Oshkosh trucks. The test took place at Fort Pickett, Va., from July 24 to Aug. 5. Marine Corps leaders said the next step is an operational test in Afghanistan.

Marines and Lockheed Martin contractors are already flying an unmanned cargo helicopter in Afghanistan where it has exceeded expectations. The K-MAX has flown over 4,500 pounds of cargo and at least 500 sorties since the Marines deployed the cargo helicopter in December 2011. Marine leaders recently chose to extend the K-MAX’s deployment for the third time out to March 2013.

Seven Marines spent three days training on the Oshkosh trucks outfitted with unmanned ground vehicle technology before the test. Oshkosh lauded the short training period as proof of the ease of use Marine Corps leaders are seeking.

Oshkosh’s unmanned ground kit can be installed into new and old vehicles, even models other than Oshkosh’s. Pentagon officials have not set a timeline for deployment of the unmanned trucks to Afghanistan.

Ground commanders have long sought the ability to send ground convoys without human crews as some of the highest casualty rates during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came from Army and Marine convoys getting hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Soldiers and Marines have often questioned why the military couldn’t build unmanned trucks when it was flooding Iraq and Afghanistan with unmanned aerial vehicles.

Much like with the K-MAX, the Army has chosen to sit on the sidelines and wait to see what the Marines can produce with their unmanned trucks. Similarly, the Air Force has focused primarily on strike and  intelligence, surveillance and surveillance drones rather than ones that can carry cargo.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Matrix_3692

    OK, so does this mean they’re planing to sent a whole convoy of UGVs or they’re just freeing up man-power in a bigger convoy (with manned vehicles leading and armed and manned escorts).

    either way, there’s always benefits form this system here it puts the precious life of soldiers in the field out of harms way, and not to mention the man-power it could free.

    i also see good potentials where it could be used as an decoy to trip off enemy ambushes or checking out the path for a much larger convoy.

    • tmb2

      It could take a number of drivers off the road, though you could never have a fully unmanned convoy since you’d need escorts and someone either remotely controlling the truck or just keep an eye on it in case of attack, break down, or looting. Stick a couple manequins in the cab and the locals might not know the difference.

    • Chris Smith

      Unless the vehicle/convoy is monitored in such a way that no insurgent could place explosives, trojan horse, on the vehicle/convoy in route by removing personel from the driving position we are endangering the lives of those who would be on the rcving end of the vehicle.

    • Raraavis

      You could have manned Armored Personnel Carriers escort a convoy of unarmored unmanned trucks. If the enemy wanted to cause human casualties they would have to attack the heavily armored and heavily armed APCs.

  • Jeff

    I’m glad the AirForce and Army are sitting this out. If they were involved it’d likely just impose undue requirements that would slow the maturation of this technology.

    • blight_

      The Army was covering its ears in the 2000’s and swearing Humvees are just fine, there aren’t that many IEDs…

  • Arby

    “The K-MAX has flown over 4,500 pounds of cargo and at least 500 sorties since the Marines deployed the cargo helicopter in December 2011.” 4500 lbs divided by 500 sorties is 9 lbs per sortie. You sure about that?

  • Mark

    I believe it was to mean carried loads over 4500 pounds and had completed at least 500 sorties.

    • MGC

      right Mark LM issued a release stating K-MAX has hauled in excess of 1.6 million pounds total.

  • TonyC

    Unmanned convoys would make it harder for the Taliban to pick targets, especially,
    if the unmanned trucks have remotely operated 50 cal machine guns. Then they
    could fire in all directions without the worry of friendly fire incidents!

  • blight_

    What it really means is that you can drop the trucker contractors. You know, the ones that got shot up all the time in Iraq in the 2000’s. A few got captured and a few more were killed, and even more were wounded.

    You can abandon a convoy of water trucks if you don’t have to try to extract drivers. Alternatively, if the 507th had unmanned trucks and concentrated their personnel into a few vehicles, more people per truck usually translates into guns ready to fire versus drivers who must drive.

  • Lance

    The only down side is less reaction time for accidents or combat for a unmanned truck who will defend the convoy if its completely unmanned??

    For some mission this would be a awesome way to do it though.

    • Raraavis

      The computers react faster than people. These trucks will be autonomous the will be supervised most likely by a person at a remote site but they drive without human interaction.

  • John

    Allows more Marines to use that Infantry training they get instead of being POG truck drivers… “But sir, I signed up to drive trucks, not being assigned to an Infantry Squad.”

  • John Larsen

    Hey Major, Maybe the public would rather hear the Marine’s doing these operation’s than the army because the Marine’s are more successful at what they do, ya think ?

  • Put remote control Artillery/ mortars on the trucks; heavy machine guns on the KMax and predators with their missiles and you have a real strike force…..

  • Lean manning of convoys might put fewer people in immediate danger, but reduced manpower increases the risk that you’ll be unable to deal with all contingencies.

    Drivers and vehicle commanders don’t just sit there looking pretty either, they also provide situational awareness, and deal with the relatively minor problems that would otherwise stop a robot truck in its tracks – a damaged tyre, a blocked air filter, etc. The truck’s crew is also usualy involved in loading, securing, checking and unloading the truck’s cargo – in future, will there be just one very busy logistician responsible for the loads carried on a dozen trucks?

  • Raraavis

    Who gets out to push when one of the trucks get stuck.

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