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Have The Skies Become Too Dangerous For Military Medevac Missions?
Are the skies becoming too dangerous for military medevac missions to fly?
The advent of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons has caused one researcher to question whether medevac as we know it is dead.
From the Korean and Vietnam Wars, to Iraq and Afghanistan, the medevac helicopter swooping down to save the wounded has become a cultural icon. In World War II, 30 percent of wounded soldiers died: that number declined to 24 percent in Vietnam, and 10 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The biggest reason was the availability of rapid medical evacuation.
"Dust off" crews in those conflicts faced very real dangers from ground fire such as machine guns, and many paid the ultimate price. But at least the U.S. controlled the skies they flew in.
Today's medevacs can't count on that anymore. Potential adversaries such as Russia and China can field a deadly arsenal of anti-access/area denial, or A2AD technologies, such as sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, advanced jet fighters, drones, jammers, and cyberweapons. If even stealthy F-35 fighters can't operate safely, then what about a Blackhawk helicopter?
"These capabilities can threaten rapid access to higher-echelon medical support within and beyond the theater of operations," writes RAND Corp. researcher Martha Kepe, in an article for West Point's Modern War Institute.
As even NATO had admitted , the Western powers — including the U.S. — have become spoiled. Operating in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where there was no sophisticated air defense, medevac missions were relatively safe — or safe at least compared to what they would face in a conflict with Russia or China.
Today's threats include "missile systems (such as surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, and land-attack cruise and ballistic missiles), manned and unmanned aircraft, mines, electronic warfare, and cyber capabilities -- all enabled by a network of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance assets," Kepe notes. "In particular, Russia’s air defense systems and aircraft are capable of threatening large swathes of the airspace over NATO territory, complicating not only ground operations but also air-to-air and air-to-ground missions."
It's not just Russia and China that threaten medevac. Ballistic missiles from nations such as Iran can also disrupt medical transport by targeting facilities such as airfields. All of these threats would "most likely impact the provision of medical support to NATO troops and those of partner nations, and erode the ability to minimize the rate of battlefield injuries and deaths from wounds," Kepe says.
Beyond medical evacuation of casualties, A2AD systems could impede the transport of medical supplies (especially perishables such as blood plasma) to forward medical facilities, the ability to redeploy medical units, as well as ferrying badly wounded patients to distant medical centers that offer better treatment.
Kepe offers a few suggestions, such as pre-positioning medical supplies before a conflict, giving soldiers more first aid training, and developing ruggedized medical equipment that can be at the front. "Mobile, modular, and dispersed medical facilities with low-signature footprints may be used to avoid detection and increase mobility," she adds.
Nonetheless, it appears that medical evacuation is becoming a much more hazardous proposition. Yet the modern Western way of war, especially in today's small wars, assumes the availability of medevac. In fact, the American, European and Israeli publics expect their wounded soldiers to receive lifesaving care. If medevac is no longer viable, will this dampen the willingness of these nations to go to war?
This article originally appeared on The National Interest
Read more from The National Interest:
- Why No Commander Wants to Take On a Spike Missile
- What Will the Sixth-Generation Jet Fighter Look Like?
- Imagine a U.S. Air Force That Never Built the B-52 Bomber
Now you can relive the glory days of screaming "fire for effect" before lobbing rounds down range, and you can do it from the comfort of your own backyard, or living room, without having to worry that some random staff sergeant is going to show up and chew you out for your unsat face scruff and Johnny Bravo 'do.
The leader of a Chicago-area street gang has been arrested and charged with attempting to aid the ISIS terrorist group, the Department of Justice said Friday.
Jason Brown, also known as "Abdul Ja'Me," allegedly gave $500 on three separate occasions in 2019 to a confidential informant Brown believed would then wire it to an ISIS fighter engaged in combat in Syria. The purported ISIS fighter was actually an undercover law enforcement officer, according to a DoJ news release.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Sen. Rick Scott is backing a bipartisan bill that would allow service members to essentially sue the United States government for medical malpractice if they are injured in the care of military doctors.
The measure has already passed the House and it has been introduced in the Senate, where Scott says he will sign on as a co-sponsor.
"As a U.S. Senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking care of our military members, veterans and their families is my top priority," the Florida Republican said in a statement.