The military health system currently struggles with ways to collect and communicate health information from warfighters on the ground, whether in theater or in garrison. Such a deficiency not only threatens the system’s ability to provide the highest quality care, from the point of injury through further echelons of care, but it also limits command and control’s ability to gain a clear picture of force readiness.
“The threat environment evolves quickly, and the technology needs to keep up with the military health system’s needs,” said Erik Buice, Vice President of Civil and Health at Northrop Grumman Corporation. “The ability to electronically capture health data will be of vital importance. And the emerging sensor technologies provide an opportunity for military leaders to measure readiness not only in the case of a casualty, but also in the field before any casualties occur.”
Michael Wittman, Military Health Program Manager at Northrop Grumman Corporation, said such sensors, now showing rapid adoption in the consumer market, can monitor a variety of health information in real time.
“The trend started with wearable fitness trackers that could measure basic fitness activity and heart rates,” he explained. “But the technology has now evolved into smart health watches that can monitor heart rhythms and send alerts for those experiencing atrial fibrillation. Also, innovative healthcare-specific devices — wearable electrocardiogram devices, wearable blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, and biosensors — can measure vital data such as heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, oxygen saturation, and hydration levels.”
In the future, Buice and Wittman submit, the military could embed such sensors in uniforms or equipment to improve the ability to monitor medical readiness and lethality. Wittman said that many different form factors constitute what could be used to collect this health data, from rings to smart watches to sensors embedded in standard issue military equipment such as headbands or chest plates. A time may even come, he argued, when such a chip could be safely placed within the warfighter’s body.
“The benefit of collecting this data before deployment and during operations is enhanced readiness and lethality,” Wittman said. “The military is very much interested in maximizing human performance and measuring what is necessary to prepare warfighters before the fight, support them during the fight, and help them recover after the fight. These sensors can help support these objectives.”
While many challenges must be surmounted in preparing for this new world of sensor-informed force readiness, Buice said it all starts with working with trusted vendor partners that understand the need for accurate and secure integration of sensor data in real time to support the military health mission.
“We can only guess at what the battlefield of the future may look like,” he said. “But having access to the health information of each warfighter can help us better prepare for whatever may come.”
To learn more about how Northrop Grumman is defining what’s possible in tracking force and medical readiness using embedded sensors and other emerging technologies, visit Northrop Grumman Military Health.
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