Marines develop lifesaving drone medevac mission help

Drones under development to deliver lifesaving supplies to injured fighters for longer than the typical golden hour.

The U.S. Marine Corps is preparing for the possibility in future combat environments that manned medevac missions might be too dangerous to carry out in a timely manner. Instead, the Marines hope to supplement those traditional capabilities with unmanned technologies that can resupply Marines with necessary materials while awaiting transport.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) has partnered with the Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Lab (TATRC) and the Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics to test the proof of concept for these capabilities. If fielded, small drones would carry Class VIII supplies, including blood and blood components, to Marines on the battlefield.

These efforts come from a belief that in future conflicts, Marines might be expected to care for casualties for hours or days as opposed to the “golden hour” that had become an expectation in recent years. The golden hour refers to the time in which life-saving treatment is most likely effective for traumatic injuries.

The primary problems facing MCWL right now, is speed and distance,  according to Lt. Cmdr. Keith Nemeroff, head of the expeditionary medicine branch of the lab. He hopes that with larger, fixed wing UAVs, some of these problems will be mitigated. The proof of concept vehicle the Marine Corps is testing is the Phoenix 60 UAV, a quadrotor UAS with a payload capacity between 3 and 8 pounds and an operating endurance between 25-50 minutes, according to a manufacturer brochure.

The problem MCWL hopes to solve is one that has been recognized by other military services. In an Association of the United States Army medical symposium earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said the average soldier would expect more advanced battlefield care in future fights. In addition to its interest in UAV medical technologies, the Army has also started providing soldiers with additional lifesaving skills typically available only to combat medics through the Traumatic Combat Casualty Care-Expendable program. A representative from the Marine Corps was not aware of any similar training-based efforts.