USAF wants Drones for Combat Search and Rescue

The US Air Force is looking for a new drone, one that can rescue wounded soldiers or downed aircrew behind enemy lines. Based on a recent solicitation by the Department of Defense, the blandly titled Personnel Recovery/Transport Vehicle will likely take the form of an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) able to operate autonomously on future battlefields. Its mission will be to “increase the number of recovery/transport vehicles available across the battlefield and to decrease the response time needed for insertion and extraction of personnel at risk while also not increasing the number of personnel in harms [sic] way”.

The May 2 2019 solicitation calls for a platform that can operate in any environment- “desert, jungle, mountainous, and maritime” – whilst being able to carry the equivalent of four fully equipped soldiers or 1400 pounds of equipment anywhere within a minimum 200 kilometer combat radius from its base station. Intended for use in tight landing zones in contested areas, the platform seems ideal for special operations forces (SOF) as well as combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Such a UAV could address the in-extremis CSAR and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) requirements experienced by US SOF during the fateful Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 for instance, to more recent conflicts such as the crash of a Marine Osprey tilt-rotor during efforts to extract members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 during a failed January 2017 raid in Yemen.

In Mogadishu, such a platform as the envisioned Personnel Recovery/Transport Vehicle, could have enabled vital resupplies of ammunition, water and night vision devices whilst also potentially facilitating the evacuation of critically wounded service-members. Pilots from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment were repeatedly denied their requests to conduct an emergency CASEVAC, with superiors citing the likelihood of losing another helicopter over the battlespace.