With thousands of air and ground robots in the field, you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. military has embraced unmanned systems. The truth is that they are used mostly for niche roles like reconnaissance and bomb disposal.Resistance to expanding their use for more core military missions persists in many corners of the military. As just one example, casualty evacuation is a mission area ripe for unmanned vehicles and yet, perversely, not only is the U.S. military not moving forward in this area, the Army has a policy actively against it. (The policy is unclassified but has not yet been publicly released.)
Almost by definition, casualties are likely to occur in dangerous areas, and manned evacuation missions run the risk of additional casualties. Unmanned vehicles could be used to extract wounded from dangerous areas and evacuate them to safety without risking additional lives. Moreover, because they could be built and operated at lower cost than equivalent manned vehicles, unmanned vehicles could be built in large numbers, so they are readily available on the front lines.
While the value of such a capability seems obvious, cultural barriers to using unmanned vehicles for this mission block their development. The U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School has issued not one or two, but three memoranda — in 2006, 2009, and 2013 — prohibiting the use of unmanned vehicles for casualty evacuation, stating, “… the use of unattended robotic platforms for casualty evacuation [is] unacceptable.” As a result, wounded troops on future battlefields will not have access to a potentially life-saving innovation.