Infographic about IMX / Cutlass Express 2023.

Infographic about IMX / Cutlass Express 2023. Sgt. Brandon Murphy / Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Naranjo / Defense One

Medevac Drone-Boat, Record-Setting UAV to Play in Sprawling Maritime Exercise

The U.S.-led IMX and Cutlass Express events will take place from the Mideast to East Africa.

Sailors who have a medical emergency may one day be medevaced to shore by unmanned boat. The U.S. Navy will be testing out the idea during a sprawling maritime exercise centered on the Middle East.

For the second year in a row, the International Maritime Exercise, or IMX, will be combined with the Cutlass Express exercise. This year’s edition, which began on Sunday, is taking place across several Mideast bodies of water and into the Indian Ocean and coastal regions of East Africa. IMX will conclude March 16.

The patient transfer experiment, a first for IMX, will use a medical mannequin to simulate a human patient, 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told reporters Monday.

“What we're looking at particularly is using unmanned systems to help move patients from ship to shore during a medical evacuation scenario,” Hawkins said.

There will be two transfers in the Gulf of Aqaba, one from a U.S. ship and another from a regional partner ship. The participants will move the mannequin using the MARTAC T38 Devil Ray high-speed surface drone, Hawkins told Defense One.

Trying unmanned medevacs is part of the exercise’s global-health focus area. The other four focus areas are combined command and control, maritime security, mine countermeasures, and unmanned systems and artificial intelligence integration.

This year’s IMX/CE23 has 50 participating countries and international organizations such as the International Criminal Police Organization or INTERPOL, more than 30 unmanned and artificial intelligence systems, 35 ships, and 7,000 personnel.

One aircraft making its debut at IMX is the K1000ULE, a long-range aerial drone by Kraus Hamdani Aerospace. In 2021, it flew for 26 continuous hours, setting a world record. The drone will be used during the exercise to provide an “over-the-horizon capability” for the “mesh network” that they are continuing to improve on, Hawkins said. This type of network, he said, “is a system used to exchange data and information in a communications-denied environment.”

Hawkins did not detail all of the aerial, surface, and underwater drones that will play in the exercise, but said most will provided by the United States. 

The U.S. will also be working to improve their AI and “edge intelligence” systems to more efficiently sift through the drone sensor data that is sent back to an operations center, he said.

“What we're looking to do during IMX is push the artificial-intelligence capability to the edge or on the unmanned platforms themselves, so that they can sort through some of the visuals and whatever the sensors are picking up,” he said. “And send to operation centers what's deemed most relevant to the mission, to what decision makers need to make smarter decisions faster.”