Air Force 'Batman' Wants a 21st-Century Battlefield Stretcher
Pararescuemen from the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron respond to a simulated, mass-casualty scenario Dec. 24, 2010, near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
CREDIT: U.S. Air Force | Staff Sgt. Eric Harris
U.S. military stretchers have not changed much since soldiers paired up to carry their wounded brothers-in-arms away from Civil War battlefields. That's why the Air Force's "Batman" lab for high-tech gadgets has issued a $15,000 challenge aimed at updating the centuries-old technology so that just a single soldier can safely move a casualty to a helicopter.
The idea came from the Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge (BATMAN) program that has pioneered new gadgets for U.S. Special Forces commandos since 2004. That Air Force Research Laboratory program more recently set its sights on making a new medical stretcher for elite "Guardian Angel" squadrons that launch missions to rescue U.S. military members anywhere in the world.
"This is basically the same [stretcher] technology that we've been using since the Civil War," said Randy Mieskoski, program manager for BATMAN. "With some variations, it's the same basic design; there's been no radical shift."
Just one existing medical device, called the SKEDCO sled, allows a single rescuer to pull a wounded person out of the line of fire. But BATMAN wants the new device to unpack in seconds, heat or cool injured soldiers as necessary to stave off any life-threatening medical conditions and possibly even protect the wounded soldier and rescuer from enemy fire.
Any new stretcher must also have the capability to attach to a helicopter rope for a quick airlift rescue, similar to how existing medical stretchers work. It should also pack up into a shoebox-size package (roughly speaking) that's easy for a single rescuer to carry while running to a wounded soldier.
The singlehanded rescue ability remains the most important, according to the Air Force challenge posted on a crowdsourcing website called Innocentive.
"If I did that, all of a sudden I'm giving them tech superiority," Mieskoski told InnovationNewsDaily. "I'm exponentially increasing their effectiveness of force because I don't have to send in two guys to pull out a wounded person."
That can make a huge difference for the Guardian Angel teams — including pararescue jumpers and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) air crews — who must rescue U.S. military members from crashed helicopters in the mountains of Afghanistan.
"They've done some very high-visibility rescues and missions, and the operational tempo is through the roof," Mieskoski said. "I've talked to some who said that they've run up to 12 missions in a 12-hour period."
The Air Force didn't want to cap the cost of any theoretical medical stretcher, but Mieskoski said that its price tag would have to be "reasonable." It has already used crowdsourcing and prize-based challenges on Innocentive to inexpensively find solutions for battlefield problems.
"If they're $2 million apiece it's not going to happen," Mieskoski said. "We're not building the new F-22 Raptor or Joint Strike Fighter, so it just needs to be reasonable. It could be disposable."