Skip to main content

Military Health System

How Drones Will Transform Battlefield Medicine – and Save Lives

Image of Drones carrying fresh blood products to wounded troops on the front lines may be critical for military medicine in a conflict against a "near-peer" adversary. Drones carrying fresh blood products to wounded troops on the front lines may be critical for military medicine in a conflict against a "near-peer" adversary. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Blood loss or “bleeding out” is the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield, military health experts say.

So one of the best ways to save lives during combat operations is to provide blood products to forward deployed medics and corpsmen as soon as possible.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting the needed blood products to injured warfighters was typically not a major challenge when the U.S. military controlled the skies and maintained a nearby network of medical facilities.

“We were pretty reliant on medevac 'dust off' to deliver our blood,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Stacy Shackelford, chief of the Joint Trauma System.

However, in future conflicts against a “near-peer” adversary, Shackelford said, that could be far more difficult. Injured troops may have to remain at the frontlines for days while needing blood transfusions or other major medical care.

The solution: Drones may become essential to combat medicine.

“I think it's going to come down to drone delivery of blood by some type of unmanned vehicle that can fly in and drop off more blood or more bullets, whatever is needed,” Shackelford said.

Resupply by Drones

“We think that drone resupply of blood and immediate-need medical products are really just around the corner,” said Dr. Adam Meledeo, a research scientist for coagulation and blood research at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.

“There are multiple off-the-shelf solutions that are being considered,” and DHA is funding a number of other innovations to optimize the ability to provide drones in the battle space, Meledeo said.

Yet using drones to resupply blood and other medical supplies will be challenging.

“There’s obviously trade-offs between some of these different platforms, such as making sure that we have a vehicle that's fast, and somewhat stealthy…and has a very large battery that will be able to keep it airborne for a much longer period of time if it needs to loiter somewhere in anticipation of there being a problem,” Meledeo said.

“There's also been some talk of outfitting some of our combat hardware drones that are already in use with alternative payloads that would be able to supply blood, medical supplies and really just about anything, such as MRE’s, ammunition, and water” to frontline medics or service members caring for wounded soldiers, he explained.

Blood Resupply

“The primary issue with blood resupply is that it has to be maintained at specific temperatures, as do a number of pharmaceuticals including certain pain medications, and antibiotics,” Meledeo said.

“The biggest technological hurdles right now are being able to maintain those temperatures inside those drone payloads very consistently, at a variety of altitudes, and a variety of different ambient conditions for potentially lengthy periods of time, without drawing too much power away from the system itself.”

The Marines Corps used drones for resupply during an exercise in Australia. Drones have also been used in Rwanda and Uganda to transport medical supplies to rural areas across mountain ranges and in bad weather, Meledeo said.

“I think that we're going to get there much faster than we had initially anticipated,” he said.

The use of drones for future near-peer conflicts is starting to filter down into the operational forces as a potential solution in the near term, he noted.

Wounded Warrior Evacuation

“In the long term, there are a number of lines of effort, such as involving drones for the extraction of patients,” Meledeo said.

U.S. partner countries are examining some of these platforms that can evacuate a patient rapidly without risking other personnel in potentially contested airspace, he added.

How does one transport casualties stealthily?

“Part of it is marking the vehicles appropriately with standard medical nomenclature. That gives you the Geneva Convention protection. But, obviously, we go up against certain enemies that will not care about that at all,” he explained.

Artificial Intelligence

Stealth technology continues to improve. When it comes to drones, “it may be just a matter of keeping the drones low to the ground, and that they're being piloted by an artificial intelligence system,” Meledeo explained.

“So, hopefully, AI will be faster to react than a human would be. But even still, I think there are a lot of concerns about” the use of drones to extract wounded warfighters.

“The long-term goal…is to actually have some sort of robotics onboard these drones that would be doing medical care to the patient during transport,” he said.

DARPA AI Initiative

A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency initiative called “The In the Moment Program” aims to ultimately give AI systems the same complex, rapid decision-making capabilities as military medical staff and trauma surgeons who are in the field of battle based on algorithms of care and decision-making capabilities.

One example is smart tourniquets that will be able to detect whether they need to be released. Other automatically guided solutions include IV placement or catheter placement, Meledeo said.

“It sounds like science fiction. It is still a little bit science fiction, but it's not as far off as it may sound,” he said.

“At least on a rudimentary level, the community is already pursuing a lot of automated solutions or artificial intelligence-derived solutions for automation of different medical processes.”

This research is underway but there’s no timeline on this concept.

“Hopefully, we'll be able to get some confident results from some of these different technologies that are going to be packaged together in this system and enable the drones to then not only resupply at the point of injury, but also actually take care of the transportation and the management of patients during that transportation.”

You also may be interested in...

Iraq Bomb Attack Led Soldier to Pursue Medical Career

Article
5/12/2022
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Maxwell (Left) and U.S. Capt. Brian Ahern, medical personnel assigned to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team, check the pulse of a local villager during excavation operations in the Houaphan province, Laos, Feb. 5, 2019.

Treating wounded soldiers for the first time was a life-changing experience for this enlisted medic.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

DHA Director Outlines Vision for Health Care Readiness at HIMSS

Article
4/11/2022
Army Lt. General (Dr.) Ron Place during his speech at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference held in Orlando, Florida, March 2022. Place’s speech detailed his thoughts on solutions to military health care readiness. (Photo: Claire Reznicek, MHS Communications)

During his speech at HIMSS, Lt. Gen. Place discusses clear and present dangers to military medical care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Dr. Jay Montgomery Details Importance of the Immunization Healthcare Division

Article
4/8/2022
Dr. Jay Montgomery is a medical director for DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Division. In addition to being a clinician and educator, he also volunteers with Wounded Warriors to design, build and fly radio controlled helicopters. (Courtesy Photo)

Dr. Jay Montgomery is a medical director for the Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Healthcare Division’s North Atlantic Region Vaccine Safety Hub. In his role, Montgomery helps address vaccine and immunization questions and concerns.

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare Division | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

The New Public Health Director Talks about His Goals for Force Readiness

Article
4/5/2022
Rear Admiral Brandon Taylor of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in dress whites at the 2019 National Independence Day Parade where he represented the U.S. Surgeon General as a presiding official with the other services. Taylor was named in February as the new director of the Defense Health Agency’s Public Health directorate. (Photo: Tanisha Blaise, Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division senior public relations and media specialist)

Rear Adm. Brandon Taylor was recently appointed to be the new director for the Defense Health Agency’s Public Health directorate. In an interview, he discussed how he is approaching his new role, his goals for Public Health within DHA, and the importance of Public Health to a medically ready force and a ready medical force.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Military Health System Transformation

How COVID-19 Made the Military Medical Community Stronger

Article
3/21/2022
Image of a service member being treated

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic has made the military medical community stronger and will help when confronting the next crisis, whether that’s another pandemic, a new conflict or natural disaster

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Top Military Health Leaders Discuss Future Readiness

Article
3/8/2022
An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, prepares to transport U.S. Army medical personnel to Guam in support of the global COVID-19 response on April 13, 2020.

Top military health leaders highlight the importance of preparing for the future to ensure both a medically ready force and a ready medical force.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Chief of the Army Dental Corps Talks Dental Health & Readiness

Article
2/22/2022
The Army’s top dentist talks about what service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Here’s what the Army’s top dentist thinks service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness | TRICARE Dental Care

Campaign Plan Targets Medical Readiness, Better Health

Article
1/26/2022
(From left) Army Lt. Col. Shimul Patel, chief, Plastic Surgery Services, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jessica Peck, chief, Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, LRMC, operate on a cancer patient during the first microvascular reconstruction and anastomosis procedure ever performed at LRMC, Dec. 3, 2021.

DHA’s five-year plan focused on improving global health care delivery, military readiness.

Recommended Content:

Ready Reliable Care | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The British 'Limeys' Were Right: A Short History of Scurvy

Article
1/10/2022
Scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C, sickened sailors who had no access to fresh food supplies, and killed more than 2 million sailors between the 16th and 18th centuries alone.

How citrus fruits quelled the scourge of scurvy.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Nutritional Fitness | Our History

Meet the First Coast Guard Sponsored USU Medical Student

Article
12/9/2021
US Coast Guard Ensign Bobczynski smiles at camera

U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate Ensign Elyse Bobczynski is the first USCG-sponsored student to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Wounded Warriors and Caregivers Online Resources

Article
11/29/2021
Airmen race for a loose ball during an Air Force Wounded Warrior basketball game

The Defense Department programs listed here are staffed with nearly 800 recovery care coordinators and case managers who are standing by to respond to individual queries.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Warrior Care

Mental Stress is like a ‘Check Engine Light’ Flashing–Don’t Ignore It

Article
11/29/2021
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason David talks about his  journey of recovery through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program during a video conversation with Defense Health Agency Command Sgt. Major Michael Gragg.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason David speaks about his own journey of recovery through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Warrior Care | Warrior Care – A Show of Strength | Psychological Fitness

Army Recovery Care Coordinator Guides Veterans, Caregivers in Recovery

Article
11/12/2021
Recovery Care Coordinator

A warrior care coordinator shares how she supports recovering service members, their families and caregivers.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | IHD COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Center for Health Care Personnel | Immunization Healthcare Division

MHS Reaches 6 Million Doses of Vaccine Against COVID

Article
11/10/2021
Airmen of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, receive COVID-19 immunizations as a part of the federal mandate at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Missouri, Oct. 2, 2021. The 139th Medical Group oversees the operation. .

Military passes 6 million mark for COVID-19 shots administered across the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors

Giving Back Helps Veteran Caregiver Connect with Military Caregivers

Article
11/10/2021
Veteran caregiver, Diane Hupko with U.S. Army veteran she cares for smile at camera

Giving back helps veteran caregiver connect with other military caregivers to build a community of support.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 5
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery