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...

Multiservice medical providers, medics take on dive injuries, treatments

Article Around MHS
5/31/2022
Military personnel in pool for training

A group of medical providers and medics recently spent two weeks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Dive Center here learning how to treat patients who may have suffered a dive injury.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Warrior Care

Air Force Surgeon General eyes modernizing capabilities for joint commanders (Part 2)

Article Around MHS
5/27/2022
Military medical personnel at Patrick AFB

Since assuming his role of Air Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Robert Miller has worked to advance the Air Force Medical Service’s capabilities, ensuring it is ready for an evolving joint fight.

Recommended Content:

Medical Logistics | Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

39 MDG beta tests AFMS first blended TCCC and Medic-X curriculum

Article Around MHS
5/20/2022
Military medical personnel performing safety exercise

The Air Force Medical Service tasked the 39th Medical Group to test the service’s first blended curriculum, enhancing the readiness and skills of medical personnel, Soldiers, and NATO allies at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, April 20-24, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Expeditionary Medical Integration Course: Unified in keeping Marines in the fight

Article Around MHS
5/12/2022
Military personnel in medical training

I Marine Expeditionary Force's Expeditionary Operations Training Group on Camp Pendleton developed the Expeditionary Medical Integration Course to prepare Marines and line corpsmen for future deployments.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Navy Hospital Ship Departs for Pacific Partnership 2022

Article Around MHS
5/9/2022
Navy Hospital Ship Departs

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departed San Diego, May 3, marking the beginning of Pacific Partnership 2022 (PP22).

Recommended Content:

Readiness Capabilities | Health Readiness & Combat Support

“Buddy! Buddy! Are You Okay?” A Look Into The Marine Corps' Livesaver Course

Article Around MHS
4/19/2022
Combat Lifesaver Course practical

The Combat Lifesaver Course is a three-day course that teaches Marines lifesaving medical techniques to eliminate preventable loss of life on the battlefield.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Niger, U.S. doctors treat 550 patients in Ouallam

Article Around MHS
4/15/2022
Military training

 Nigerien and U.S. doctors alongside U.S. joint service medical specialists established a temporary field clinic to provide medical treatment to citizens of Ouallam and the surrounding areas as a part of a medical civic action program (MEDCAP) in Ouallam, Niger, March 16, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Practice makes perfect: Uniformed Services University students learn combat casualty care

Article Around MHS
10/22/2021
An instructor gives advice on how a team of medical school students at the Uniformed Services University should work on their simulated patient during the Advanced Combat Medical Experience. 

The Advanced Combat Medical Experience (ACME), a four-day medical field practicum at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), is intense

Recommended Content:

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

Expeditionary Medical Force Brings Optimal Readiness in Pacific Region

Article Around MHS
10/18/2021
A male soldier talks about a chart to to a female sailor.

The 121st Field Hospital of the 549th Hospital Center recently introduced an innovative way to increase medical Soldiers’ proficiency and competency by enhancing access to the field hospital equipment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus & the MHS Response
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 40 Page 3 of 3
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