Military aviation modernization: saving lives with speed and range
Doug Englen, Military Sales & Strategy Manager, Bell, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about how the US Army is working to meet the challenges of the future battlefield, where they require modernized technology designed to not only aid in the fight, but also provide medical care to wounded servicemen and women
When it comes to helping wounded soldiers on the battlefield, time is of the essence. Getting to the wounded and delivering them to a higher level of care quickly can mean the difference between life or death. Vertical lift transportation has played a key role for decades as rotorcraft can get in and out of contested areas without airfields or large secured landing zones.
However, as adversaries develop and deploy new tactics and capabilities, the Army must invest in new weapons systems capable of dominating aviation. It has been more than 40 years since the Army brought in a new utility rotorcraft capable of aiding in medevac missions, but that will soon change with the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program of record.
A key example of what soldiers could look forward to from FLRAA and aviation modernization is Bell’s V-280 Valor. This new aircraft is intended to replace the Army’s enduring fleet of Black Hawks, offering key attributes such as range, speed, and versatility that is well beyond that of the existing fleet. The ability to fly over twice as fast, with over three times the range of the enduring fleet, coupled with the ability to incorporate the latest in onboard medical systems, will have a major impact on the quality of care that soldiers will have access to.
Alongside advances in aviation capability, the Army is updating its health systems and approaches to delivering world-class medical care. This effort is happening alongside the Army’s broader push for modernization, focused on bringing in new capabilities to deliver the competitive edge required for executing multi-domain operations (MDO). These programs will impact the Army’s force structure for decades to come.
The impact of speed, range, and maneuverability
A common frame of reference for aiding casualties in medevac operations is known as the Golden Hour. It is a long-standing reference to the greatly improved chances of survival or improving future quality of life for soldiers by getting them to a higher level of medical care within one hour from when an injury occurs. The more time that passes, the greater the risk to wounded parties.
From the moment a soldier is wounded the clock starts, and the race to rescue them and get them to appropriate medical facilities begins. There are always potential constraining factors such as the location of the wounded, the severity of trauma, the number of wounded, and many others that must be considered before a mission gets into the air. The speed and range offered by next-generation rotorcraft have clear potential to positively impact patients in the future by getting medical personnel on the scene faster from a greater distance than ever before.
Any future medevac configuration of the V-280 Valor offers three transformative capabilities that will aid the Army in saving the lives of wounded soldiers: speed, range, and maneuverability.
Speed: the V-280 Valor has demonstrated high-speed flight of over 305 knots. This type of speed means that aviators can get to wounded soldiers and bring them to medical professionals on the base significantly faster than the enduring fleet. When compared to Black Hawks operating at around 150 knots, this is a vast improvement.
Range: the V-280 can be configured for a range exceeding 500nm. This range means that medevac crews can access wounded soldiers from much farther away, or fly around inaccessible territory to gain access, and then get them to ground care with fewer potential stops for fuel that could also leave them within range of enemy fires. This provides theater commanders options for strategically holding medevac units at fewer facilities in areas of operations while retaining the response times necessary for combat operations.
Maneuverability: the V-280’s maneuverability gives aircrews the ability to vertically take off and land anywhere they need – regardless of the environment. In a contested area, soldiers can quickly get to the wounded without requiring a runway or large-scale improved areas. From rooftops to soccer fields, the ability for rotorcraft to get close to wounded soldiers for evacuation is an absolute imperative.
Building in versatility
As the Army develops this new generation of aircraft, it is important to understand that the aircraft itself provides major improvements in performance over previous generations. These new weapons systems must be capable of incorporating the latest in mission equipment that will be of great use to aircrews such as hoists, medical bays, and critical care packages with the option to upgrade over the decades of expected service from these platforms.
This is why, in parallel to airframe testing and development, Bell and its teammates have simultaneously been working on medevac configuration options to ensure that the Army’s requirements are identified, and potential solutions are provided from the very beginning. By working alongside Army partners and medical professionals through soldier touchpoints, Bell has gathered expert input to deliver a versatile platform with the flexibility to adjust for future requirements. Cabin space, medical care packages, and other interior features can be reconfigured as needed quickly and affordably.
For example, the V-280 can incorporate a Patient Handling System that can be reconfigured to transport six ambulatory patients or six litter patients. It can also be reconfigured to carry a combination of the two as needed, aiding medical care providers to tailor the interior to the individual soldiers on the aircraft.
The needs of Army medics on the battlefield are constantly shifting with each medevac operation. Each patient has potentially unique needs, so the V-280 is designed with the flexibility needed to meet Army needs as they shift with different evacuation operations.
At the forefront of technological advancement
Technology advances mean that soldiers must have the finest capabilities available to keep them safe through a wide array of operational environments. The V-280 is designed to not only be relevant for today’s fight, but to maintain this relevancy for decades to come by keeping up with technological advancements.
By implementing the required Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA), the V-280 Valor can quickly and affordably stay up to date through the rapid integration of new technology as it emerges. This may take the form of sensors for operations in visually degraded or nighttime operations, communications equipment, or mission systems that enable Army medics to have the technology they need to better access, triage, and treat wounded soldiers throughout a given mission.
For example, when performing medevac operations, Army commanders and medics rely on technology that allows them to collect and transmit data with soldiers on the ground to understand fast-evolving situations more quickly. Open lines of communication can greatly improve medical care as access to information, vital signs, health records, or distant expertise can be applied to wounded individuals. As new technology that enables this sort of information sharing is produced, the Army will be able to integrate it quickly onto the platform.
Winning on the battlefield includes the ability to protect wounded soldiers with the best capabilities possible. Army aviation modernization is aimed at introducing new, highly capable, and forward-looking platforms into the fleet to efficiently execute MDO. These capability improvements can greatly benefit how medevac operations are performed through significant increases in speed and range, vertical take-off and landing capabilities, and built-in reconfigurability. The V-280 Valor is unlike anything the Army has today and will make all the difference in not only getting soldiers to the fight but bringing them home safely.