Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry a simulated casualty by litter during a Combat Life-saving Skills course aboard the USS Rushmore. (Cpl. Timothy Childers / Marine Corps)
A technology used by tour groups and mall cops could soon help Marines save lives on the battlefield.
The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, in partnership with Virginia Tech University, is developing an electric litter carrier that would enable troops to move a wounded Marine off the battlefield with very little effort, freeing them to better defend their injured comrade. Lt. Cmdr. David Gribben, head of expeditionary medicine at the lab in Quantico, Va., said the secret to the design is a tilt-motor, the same kind used in the popular upright Segway scooters.
On the battlefield today, it takes a crew of Marines to carry a litter, or stretcher, surrounding it on all sides to distribute the weight.
“With poleless litters, improvised, you’ll notice how taxing it is,” Gribben said, noting Marines had to wield their M16 rifles for defense and carry the weight of the litter at the same time. “Only one person is in front to provide security. We’re hoping to free up that team so only one person is moving the litter.”
With a traditional litter resting on top of the new tilt-motor carrier, Gribben said, light hand pressure on a handle at the front of the carrier would be sufficient to guide it off the battlefield, letting the motor do the work.
The carrier would have two, three or four ruggedized wheels and the ability to brake and balance itself, Gribben said. It would stand 30 to 40 inches off the ground, about hand-height for a standing Marine, and be able to propel itself across rough terrain, even at a steep 15 percent incline over half a mile.
And of course, the carrier would be portable, about 80 pounds and collapsible to fit inside a 30- by 14-inch box.
“The idea is that we can break this thing down, put it in a bag or a box, and fit it into whatever vehicle is out on the battlefield,” Gribben said.
Warfighting Lab officials will meet with Virginia Tech engineers this month to test out an initial mockup of the design. Early next year, a prototype will be put through its paces. And in April, officials hope to have a final version of the carrier to ship out to Hawaii for the Advanced Warfighting Experiment that will be incorporated into Rim of the Pacific exercises.
The electric litter carrier is just one of the innovative new technologies the Warfighting Lab is developing specifically for corpsmen and battlefield medical personnel. Also new this year is the “Tactical Telemedicine” portable electronic kit that enables corpsmen to take vital signs, record observations, and video-conference with military doctors remotely from the battlefield.
Gribben said all these innovations were part of ongoing work to make the most of the “golden hour:” that crucial first 60 minutes after a Marine has been wounded.