Saab’s deployable medical solutions provide frontline care 

The Australian Department of Defence recently ordered Saab’s deployable medical units, which are built on a flexible module concept and focus on individual customer needs. Norbert Neumann talks to Saab about its flexible health solutions.

Swedish defence and security organisation Saab has over 40 years of experience providing medical care solutions. In September, the Australian Department of Defence awarded the company an AUD337m (£181m) contract to deliver deployable health modules for the Australian Health Capability Programme, Joint Project 2060 (JP2060).

The contract will see the delivery of deployable health care (DHC) units and includes a five-year support programme. For this effort, Saab is partnering with Australian-based companies Philips Healthcare Australia, Aspen Medical, Broadspectrum and Marshall Land Systems Australia.

Saab sales manager Anders Lindström says: “Saab is the prime contractor with the other companies being sub-contractors, but Philips delivers a lot of equipment to the project as well.”

Since medical solutions projects depend on customer requirements, different partners could take charge for subsequent contracts, he adds.

Three roles

The DHC solutions are fully modular, with each module capable of providing joint or stand-alone capabilities and are interoperable with Nordic and NATO forces. They offer three different sets of capabilities, or, as Saab calls them, roles.

Role one is a lightweight solution that can be assembled and ready to operate in just under an hour.

“It’s 750kg altogether, you can load them into pallets and transport them by land or air. You can also drop them from the air,” Lindström explains.

The tent-based system has the full capability of a smaller hospital, including most medical instruments necessary to carry out surgeries. By splitting the module into two forward resuscitation teams, its size can be reduced and, with that, its capabilities.

Saab has been working closely with the Swedish Ministry of Defence on its deployable medical solutions since the 1970s.

“We started delivering sterile containers to the Swedish Defence Forces, and from that point on we’ve worked together,” Lindström says.

He adds that role one is currently used in Mali by the Swedish Army, but the same solution has been deployed in Afghanistan as well.

“If you move up to a role two, a lot depends on what the customer needs. It could be hard shelters or containers and it can host X-ray capabilities, CT scanners, dentists or even veterinarians,” Lindström says.

HNoMS Maus, the logistic and support vessel that the Royal Norwegian Navy received in 2019, was partially designed and equipped by Saab, mainly using its role two DHC system design.

Moving to role three, the capabilities and the technology of the unit match a highly-equipped hospital, allowing it to carry out complex, specialist surgeries. Some countries with bigger forces may operate these facilities on a semi-permanent basis, but Lindström says most customers are interested in the first two roles, with sometimes additional elements added to the second level.

In the realm of medical equipment, standards are key to ensuring international operations and compatibility. Air, naval and land medical operations all have different standards. All three roles of Saab’s DHC units can operate across all domain standards.

Lindström says that although Saab works with several partners in the medical efforts, the main companion in providing medical equipment is Philips.

“We use well-known equipment and then we put together a capability with the customers regarding their needs. We'll use different sub-suppliers, and then we also provide the support over time for our customers,” he adds.

//  Saab’s DHC solutions come in three roles offering different levels of medical care. Credit: Saab

Self-sustaining medical unit 

Accessing a stable electricity supply on the battlefield can prove challenging and facing a power blackout while treating patients can have dangerous consequences.

With the larger roles you need more power for CT scanners or X-ray machines, so you’d need larger generators.

Saab’s DHC is fully self-sustaining, mainly powered by a diesel generator. All electrical equipment is rechargeable, so doctors can perform surgeries without enduing generator noise in the background.

“Of course, with the larger roles you need more power for CT scanners or X-ray machines, so you’d need larger generators, and it [the unit] would have more fixed installations,” Lindström points out.

The DHCs come with an electric and a manual water cleaning system, that provide surgically clean water even when out in the field without power.

Weather conditions do not hinder even the tent-based module’s operations. Saab claims the Swedish Armed Forces operate them in the country’s mountains during winters with no issues. Lindström says the heating solution usually consists of a heating unit outside the tent with a pipe system transferring the heat inside. The same principle can be adopted for cooling in extremely hot environments.

“If you are in a sandy place, with our equipment we can also establish overpressure within the tent, so the sand wouldn’t get inside either,” Lindström adds.

Training and maintenance

Saab provides training and maintenance support with its DHC units. The support delivered by the company largely depends on the delivered equipment itself and the particular contract, but it mainly includes training, delivering new parts and maintenance.

Lindström explains: “Some of the training is provided by us. For more complicated things that we don’t have the knowledge for, operating a CT scanner, for instance, we’d ask the subcontractor to perform the training.”

Saab is working on a contract to provide its medical solutions to the Latvian National Armed Forces concurrently with the JP2060 programme. The Swedish company also offers services to transform carrier aircraft, including helicopters, into medical evacuation aircraft.

// Main image: The Australian Department of Defence has awarded Saab a contract to deliver deployable medical units. Credit: Saab.