By DoD News
By Office of the Chief of Public Affairs
Recent news items about the use of Army medical evacuation, or MEDEVAC, helicopters in Afghanistan contain troubling information. The reporting suggests that putting red crosses on MEDEVACs, and not arming them somehow, is putting injured Soldiers’ lives at risk. The facts do not support these assertions for several reasons.
First, there is no evidence, implied or proven, that the enemy deliberately targets MEDEVAC helicopters, but we know from hard experience that the enemy does try to shoot down any and all U.S. and coalition aircraft. Further, all helicopters in Afghanistan fly in pairs as a force protection matter. It’s the way we do business and to suggest that arming MEDEVAC aircraft would result in crews launching sooner is a dubious assertion.
Here are the facts: DOD has specifically tasked the Army, not any other service, to provide a standing MEDEVAC capability. The other services, as well as the Army in some cases, fly CASEVAC missions. This is a critical distinction. CASEVAC stands for Casualty Evacuation, which is a technical distinction that means they use whatever helicopters are available at the moment to extract the wounded or downed aircrews. However, DOD has tasked the Army to provide evacuation to the MEDEVAC standard, which means our MEDEVAC crews and helicopters are purpose built, manned, trained and equipped to provide advanced trauma care in flight.
While putting a red cross on our MEDEVAC helicopters has the added benefit of being consistent with the Geneva Conventions, it also marks that aircraft and crew for no other mission besides medical evacuation. In Afghanistan and other austere environments, where helicopter assets are in very high demand, it’s important that we dedicate a fleet of aircraft for no other purpose than to provide advanced in-flight care for wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.
The Army provides the great majority of medical evacuations in Afghanistan. That includes allied personnel and even enemy wounded. The U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, and in Iraq before that, specifically asked for the Army to provide medical evacuation of its personnel because they know we provide the “gold standard” in modern battlefield evacuation. No military force in the world is better than the US Army at MEDEVAC. The 92 percent survival rate for wounded in Afghanistan is the highest in history because of the power of our MEDEVAC capability and its battlefield support network.
Another important point is that arming our MEDEVACs would significantly impact the capability of the aircraft. Machine guns, related mounting equipment, ammunition and the gunners all add weight to the aircraft. The added weight would hinder the aircraft’s ability to work at higher altitudes because of reduced lift, as well as its speed and range. Additionally, MEDEVACs can carry up to four litter patients, but if weapons were added, that number would be reduced, which would in turn require the commitment of more MEDEVAC aircraft, an already low density and high demand asset.
Further, arming MEDEVACs would not reduce the need for armed escort. Again, our aircraft travel in pairs. The decision to use escort is the tactical commander’s, and the Army does not dictate how or when it is necessary to use these assets.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the Army would change its policy if battlefield commanders wanted a change. We take our obligation to perform the MEDEVAC mission very seriously. We’re a learning organization and periodically we review our policies to make sure they remain relevant. We looked at the MEDEVAC policy in 2008, but after a review, we determined no change was necessary.
Additionally, neither the International Security Assistance Force or U.S. Forces – Afghanistan has requested a change in policy; because our MEDEVAC crews and aircraft provide the best chance at survival ever seen in warfare, and because — as commanders in Afghanistan have told us — not arming our MEDEVACs and identifying them with the red cross has had no impact on the medical evacuation mission.