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...

How the U.S. Military Acclimates Units to High-Altitude Operations

Article
11/28/2022
Service members on a mountain

The Military Health System takes measures to prevent and mitigate altitude sickness in service members operating at high altitudes. For best results, it’s key to acclimate units gradually and progressively.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Bulgarian Armed Forces Demonstrate Combat Medical Advancements

Article
8/22/2022
Two medics tend to a dummy in a simulated emergency.

Bulgarian Armed Forces showed off their combat lifesaving training to a U.S. delegation Aug. 10.

Recommended Content:

Education & Training | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Global Health Engagement

DHA Program Supports Training Education of Future Medical Providers

Article
7/20/2022
Military personnel looking at display

The Clinical Investigations Program combines research and training to teach and develop the future clinicians of the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Health Care Technology | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Need for Speed Requires Intense Training

Article
7/18/2022
 Military personnel conducts routine ops in US 3rd Fleet

Tom Cruise has nothing on real military pilots and their training.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Physical Fitness

Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Article
7/5/2022
Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Almost 60,000 people around the world die from rabies each year. Despite the common belief that rabid animals are easily identified by foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, infected animals may not look sick or act strangely.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health | Rabies

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Article
6/30/2022
Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area. Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

How MHS GENESIS will become essential to patients' health journey

Article
6/21/2022
Dr. Robert Marshall, program director of the Department of Defense Clinical Informatics Fellowship at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Ensuring proper training of both providers and patients is essential for the successful integration and sustainment of MHS GENESIS into MHS care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | MHS GENESIS Toolkit | MHS GENESIS: The Electronic Health Record | MHS GENESIS

How Military Medicine Is Preparing for the Next Conflict

Article
6/8/2022
As the Pentagon prepares today’s force for a “near-peer” fight against a large military adversary, the Military Health System is challenged to provide life-saving support for large-scale and dispersed operations.

As the Pentagon prepares today’s force for a “near-peer” fight against a large military adversary, the Military Health System is challenged to provide life-saving support for large-scale and dispersed operations. That’s especially true for the medics supporting troops on the front lines.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | Education & Training | Medical Education and Training Campus

Army Doctor Earns Top Honors at Air Assault School at Fort Campbell

Article
6/3/2022
Army Doctor Earns Top Honors at Air Assault School at Fort Campbell

This Army doctor finished at the top of his class at the Air Assault School at Fort Campbell. It's a 10-day course that is both physically and academically challenging, teaching soldiers the foundations of heliborne operations to include troop transportation, sling loaded cargo and equipment transportation, medical and casualty evacuation operations, and air assault operations.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Could a Therapy Dog Help with Your Dental Anxiety?

Article
6/2/2022
Air Force Brig. Gen. Goldie, a facility therapy dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helps reduce anxiety in a patient with complex dental conditions that require multiple appointments. The use of therapy dogs is part of an ongoing study with these patients.

A first-of-its-kind study at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is researching whether using facility therapy dogs in dentists’ offices could reduce patient anxiety and improve outcomes for military dental treatment programs.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

Tips for Military Parents Planning PCS Moves with Children

Article
6/2/2022
Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet, there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

Corneal Collagen Cross Linking in the Military a Game Changer

Article
5/27/2022
Corneal collagen cross-linking, known as CXL, the first and only treatment to date that is proven to stop Keratoconus, KCN, progression.

Corneal collagen cross-linking, known as CXL, the first and only treatment to date that is proven to stop Keratoconus, KCN, progression.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Facility Dogs Play a Vital Role in Recovery for Patients Across the MHS

Article
5/27/2022
Luke is a German Shephard facility dog.

Each dog has his or her own rank, service, and uniform and is inducted in an enlistment or commissioning ceremony. Today, the Facility Dog Program at WRNMMC includes Sully, a yellow Lab who was former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog.

Recommended Content:

Our History | Health Readiness & Combat Support

After Leading Through the Pandemic, TRICARE Pharmacy Chief Retires

Article
5/27/2022
Pharmacy Services

How COVID-driven changes are improving the TRICARE Pharmacy System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology

How Health Care Providers Can Mitigate Burnout

Article
5/25/2022
U.S. Army Soldiers load a simulated patient on to a New Jersey National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during a combat lifesaver course run by the Medical Simulation Training Center on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 14, 2022.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

“No one is immune to burnout. Healthcare providers are very good at rescuing others. We train for it and practice it daily. Unfortunately, we often do so at the expense of our own health and wellness.”

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

How the U.S. Military Acclimates Units to High-Altitude Operations

Article
11/28/2022
Service members on a mountain

The Military Health System takes measures to prevent and mitigate altitude sickness in service members operating at high altitudes. For best results, it’s key to acclimate units gradually and progressively.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Bulgarian Armed Forces Demonstrate Combat Medical Advancements

Article
8/22/2022
Two medics tend to a dummy in a simulated emergency.

Bulgarian Armed Forces showed off their combat lifesaving training to a U.S. delegation Aug. 10.

Recommended Content:

Education & Training | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Global Health Engagement

DHA Program Supports Training Education of Future Medical Providers

Article
7/20/2022
Military personnel looking at display

The Clinical Investigations Program combines research and training to teach and develop the future clinicians of the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Health Care Technology | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Need for Speed Requires Intense Training

Article
7/18/2022
 Military personnel conducts routine ops in US 3rd Fleet

Tom Cruise has nothing on real military pilots and their training.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Physical Fitness

Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Article
7/5/2022
Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Almost 60,000 people around the world die from rabies each year. Despite the common belief that rabid animals are easily identified by foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, infected animals may not look sick or act strangely.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health | Rabies

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Article
6/30/2022
Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area. Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

How MHS GENESIS will become essential to patients' health journey

Article
6/21/2022
Dr. Robert Marshall, program director of the Department of Defense Clinical Informatics Fellowship at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Ensuring proper training of both providers and patients is essential for the successful integration and sustainment of MHS GENESIS into MHS care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | MHS GENESIS Toolkit | MHS GENESIS: The Electronic Health Record | MHS GENESIS

How Military Medicine Is Preparing for the Next Conflict

Article
6/8/2022
As the Pentagon prepares today’s force for a “near-peer” fight against a large military adversary, the Military Health System is challenged to provide life-saving support for large-scale and dispersed operations.

As the Pentagon prepares today’s force for a “near-peer” fight against a large military adversary, the Military Health System is challenged to provide life-saving support for large-scale and dispersed operations. That’s especially true for the medics supporting troops on the front lines.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | Education & Training | Medical Education and Training Campus

Army Doctor Earns Top Honors at Air Assault School at Fort Campbell

Article
6/3/2022
Army Doctor Earns Top Honors at Air Assault School at Fort Campbell

This Army doctor finished at the top of his class at the Air Assault School at Fort Campbell. It's a 10-day course that is both physically and academically challenging, teaching soldiers the foundations of heliborne operations to include troop transportation, sling loaded cargo and equipment transportation, medical and casualty evacuation operations, and air assault operations.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Could a Therapy Dog Help with Your Dental Anxiety?

Article
6/2/2022
Air Force Brig. Gen. Goldie, a facility therapy dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helps reduce anxiety in a patient with complex dental conditions that require multiple appointments. The use of therapy dogs is part of an ongoing study with these patients.

A first-of-its-kind study at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is researching whether using facility therapy dogs in dentists’ offices could reduce patient anxiety and improve outcomes for military dental treatment programs.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

Tips for Military Parents Planning PCS Moves with Children

Article
6/2/2022
Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet, there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

Corneal Collagen Cross Linking in the Military a Game Changer

Article
5/27/2022
Corneal collagen cross-linking, known as CXL, the first and only treatment to date that is proven to stop Keratoconus, KCN, progression.

Corneal collagen cross-linking, known as CXL, the first and only treatment to date that is proven to stop Keratoconus, KCN, progression.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Facility Dogs Play a Vital Role in Recovery for Patients Across the MHS

Article
5/27/2022
Luke is a German Shephard facility dog.

Each dog has his or her own rank, service, and uniform and is inducted in an enlistment or commissioning ceremony. Today, the Facility Dog Program at WRNMMC includes Sully, a yellow Lab who was former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog.

Recommended Content:

Our History | Health Readiness & Combat Support

After Leading Through the Pandemic, TRICARE Pharmacy Chief Retires

Article
5/27/2022
Pharmacy Services

How COVID-driven changes are improving the TRICARE Pharmacy System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology

How Health Care Providers Can Mitigate Burnout

Article
5/25/2022
U.S. Army Soldiers load a simulated patient on to a New Jersey National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during a combat lifesaver course run by the Medical Simulation Training Center on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 14, 2022.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

“No one is immune to burnout. Healthcare providers are very good at rescuing others. We train for it and practice it daily. Unfortunately, we often do so at the expense of our own health and wellness.”

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 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