The Army is working on engineering unmanned systems and tactical robots that can both help and evacuate casualties from the battlefield by transporting injured soldiers out of dangerous situations, service officials said.
"We are evaluating existing and developmental technologies that can be applied to medical missions," Phil Reidinger, spokesman for the U.S. Army Health Readiness Center of Excellence, told Scout Warrior.
The idea, expressed by Army leaders, is aimed at saving lives of trained medics to run into high-risk combat situations when soldiers are injured. For example, medical evacuation robots could prevent medics from being exposed to enemy gunfire and shrapnel.
"We have lost medics throughout the years because they have the courage to go forward and rescue their comrades under fire," Maj. Gen. Steve Jones, commander of the Army Medical Department Center and School and chief of the Medical Corps, said in a written statement. "With the newer technology, with the robotic vehicles we are using even today to examine and to detonate IEDs [improvised explosive devices], those same vehicles can go forward and retrieve casualties."
Army medics unload a mock casualty from a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training exercise. | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod
The Army has operated thousands of cave-clearing, improvised explosive device-locating robots in places like Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. The majority of them use sensors such as electro-optical/infrared cameras to detect and destroy roadside bombs and other explosive materials.
"We already use robots on the battlefield today to examine IEDs, to detonate them," Jones said. "With some minor adaptation, we could take that same technology and use it to extract casualties that are under fire. How many medics have we lost, or other Soldiers, because they have gone in under fire to retrieve a casualty? We can use a robotics device for that."
Jones said unmanned vehicles used to recover injured Soldiers could be armored to protect those Soldiers on their way home.
But the vehicles could do more than just recover Soldiers, he said. With units operating forward, sometimes behind enemy lines, the medical community could use unmanned aerial vehicle systems, or UAVs, to provide support to them.
"What happens when a member of the team comes down with cellulitis or pneumonia? We have got to use telemedicine to tele-mentor them on the diagnosis and treatment," he said, adding that UAVs could be used for delivering antibiotics or blood to those units to keep them in the fight. "So you don't have to evacuate the casualties, so the team can continue its mission."