U.S. Military Testing Drone To Evacuate Wounded And Dead Soldiers

A robot could soon perform one of the most sacred missions for deployed forces

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Mar 30, 2017 at 4:45 PM ET

Since World War II, the United States military has used helicopters for casualty evacuations (CASEVAC) and medical evacuations (MEDVAC) out of combat zones. MEDVAC aircrafts are designed to allow for in-flight care of injured soldiers and are clearly marked on the exterior. Under Article II of the Geneva Convention, it is a war crime to fire at MEDVAC vehicles. Virtually any craft can become a CASEVAC vehicle, and therefore doesn’t have the same protection. But CASEVAC is viewed as one of the military’s most sacred duties — the callsign for it is Dustoff, which stands for “Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces.”

But soon, some of that hallowed responsibility could be placed upon robots. Over the last two weeks, U.S. Military news sites have revealed information about the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s  research into alternative CASEVAC methods and technology. Chief among these concepts is the DP14 Hawk, a dual-rotor drone that can fit a body and not much else.

According to developer DPI’s site, the Hawk can carry a payload of 430 pounds and has a cargo area of six-feet long and 20-inches wide. It can fly about 82 miles per hour for about 2.5 hours. The vehicle uses 3D laser imaging and artificial intelligence to self-navigate — choosing routes, correcting course, avoiding obstacles, and picking a landing site. This navigation system makes the craft immune to GPS jamming and capable of operating through smoke, dust, and rain.

The Hawk can autonomously launch and land at sites that haven’t been prepared, even if it’s on a rocking ship, 15-degree slope, overgrown field, or icy roads. The entire craft fits into a cargo van.

Military researchers see this relatively cheap, agile technology as a boon for defense medicine. They are currently conducting research on how to use the Hawk and similar unmanned systems for medical missions, in addition to casualty evacuations.

“Unmanned and autonomous platforms have the potential to completely rewrite the medical doctrine for how we conduct emergency resupply of unmanned and autonomous platforms, including whole blood products delivered directly to the point of need, as well as monitored CASEVAC missions when dedicated medical evacuation assets are unavailable or are otherwise denied entry due to weather, terrain, or enemy activity,” said Daniel R. Kral, commander of the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, in a statement.