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US Marines Try Using Drones to Bring Blood to Battle


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US Marines Try Using Drones to Bring Blood to Battle

The light unmanned aircraft made hundreds of supply drops during recent Australian live-fire wargames.
In August, over the dusty fields of Australia, highly autonomous drones made more than 380 deliveries of blood and other medical supplies to troops amid a live-fire exercise with U.S., Australian, and other forces.

The drones were from a small startup called Zipline, hired by the Defense Innovation Unit and the Naval Medical Research Center’s Naval Advanced Medical Development to show how next-generation delivery drones could bring medical and other supplies to the front lines. Over a set of four exercises — Bundey I, Koolendong-19, Bundey II, and Crocodile Response — the Zipline drones flew under live rounds to drop small parachute bundles at their destinations. All told, they flew 461 day and night sorties and made 381 drops. It was the first time a U.S. Marine Air-Ground Task Force had incorporated autonomous drone delivery into their high availability, disaster recovery planning.

The Marines have used drones for cargo delivery before. Between 2011 and 2015, two unmanned K-MAX helicopters flew nearly 1,000 cargo missions in Afghanistan. The Marines are still using the K-MAXes, which are currently being fitted with more autonomous capabilities, but the Zipline drones offer a new realm of delivery options.