Addressing Key Stakeholders, McQueen Touts MRDC's Vision for the Future
Brig. Gen. Tony McQueen, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and Fort Detrick, served as a keynote speaker during the fourth annual Future Soldier Technology USA conference in Arlington, Virginia, on June 6. More than 100 representatives from the military, academia and industry attended the two-day conference to discuss the future of Soldier systems – specifically the impact of emerging technologies on Solider lethality, sustainability and survivability.
The event featured more than three dozen sessions on topics ranging from the importance of information dominance to improving both mobility and situational awareness to achieve battlefield overmatch.
"We start by asking ourselves what the threat is, and what the threat looks like," said McQueen during his remarks, which focused chiefly on the manners in which a proactive medical acquisition strategy can reinforce the Army's strategic plan for 2030 and beyond. "You can look at our national defense strategy to see who our potential adversaries are, but at MRDC we also look at potential biological risks. Climate change, cyber attacks, humanitarian crises, you name it – there are a multitude of threats where military medicine fits into that space."
Through that lens, McQueen noted MRDC's current efforts in transforming medical communications capabilities and updating medical protocols to align with the changing landscape of the modern battlefield; the latter being near-peer combat situations that will likely take place in more urban and densely populated areas. In terms of communication, McQueen mentioned patient regulation as a driving concept, noting that MRDC has made it a priority to seek and acquire materiel solutions that will help manage a casualty from the point-of-injury all the way through the supporting Roles of care; tools that will enable clinicians to log the type of care said casualty has received through each echelon. Ensuring that leadership can place, in McQueen's words, "the right equipment in the right place at the right time" on the battlefield is a key concern moving forward.
In terms of updating care protocols, McQueen was clear in his desire to expand the so-called "Golden Hour" – that is, the critical window of time for trauma patients to receive a set series of life-saving interventions – due to the aforementioned changes in future combat scenarios. By expanding the "Golden Hour" to the "Golden Window," McQueen envisioned near-future battlefield medical care as heavily dependent on prolonged field care; in some cases requiring casualty care for as long as 96 hours from the point-of-injury. This concept is based on the likelihood that the U.S. will not have air superiority in future combat operations, thus decreasing the probability for at-will medical evacuation. Folded into this more expansive care window too is the potential for combat operations in more austere locations – the Arctic being one such example – thus exacerbating what McQueen referred to as "the tyranny of distance."
Additional topics covered during McQueen's remarks included the management and storage of blood on the battlefield, along with subsequent efforts to develop methods to extend the useful life of available blood in combat. McQueen also discussed advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics – tools which he called "critical" to the future of battlefield success. While research on these topics remains in relative infancy, McQueen posited a scenario where the combination of both tools could potentially allow a clinician to operate dozens of ventilator machines at once from a central, independent location, offering individual care to each casualty based on their needs at the time. It is this kind of future, he said, one in which innovative medical technologies empower and support a resilient force in search of overmatch, which MRDC and the larger military are striving towards each day.
"It's critical that we continue to do this as a joint force," said McQueen, in closing. "It's critical that across all the research and development and acquisition capabilities in the Joint Force and the Department of Defense that we're working together, that we're doing it with industry and that were doing it with academia. We've got to be more bold and audacious than we've ever been because time is ticking, and 2030 and 2040 – they're not that far away."