May 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Andrew Raine, Tara John, Sana Noor Haq, Laura Smith-Spark and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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11:55 p.m. ET, May 14, 2022

US and NATO forces using lessons from Ukraine in medical evacuation training drills

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A luminous dot approaches in the distance somewhere in the middle of Latvia.

It’s around midnight and it’s pitch black, but the special forces aircraft is going to attempt a landing in the darkness on a two-lane civilian road.

Equipped with night vision goggles, pilots and ground staff are able to coordinate and successfully land the aircraft.

It’s part of medical training that US and NATO special forces are doing in the Baltic region, implementing practices they have been learning from the conflict in Ukraine.

The main lesson they have learned is that air superiority may be a thing of the past, and air evacuations using fast-moving helicopters might not be possible.

“Look at the battlefield now, look at Ukraine. What’s flying? Not a lot reliably,” a member of NATO’s special forces told CNN, on condition that they remain anonymous for security reasons. “The assumption is, if the air is denied, where is that patient going to go? How are we going to transport him to the surgeon?”

That means it could take longer to get wounded soldiers to hospitals and operations may need to be performed on or near the front line. 

“The spirit of what we are doing is called prolonged casualty care, prolonged field care,” the special forces service member explained. “And the concept is identifying those strategies that will help us prolong life in order to bridge that and get that patient to the surgeon.”

Some of the lessons from the war in Ukraine have also been learned by watching how medics have been operating on the battlefield, sometimes still under heavy fire.

“The Ukrainians have been doing a phenomenal job of claiming the battlefield and of implementing some of these strategies, taking care of their patients en route,” the special forces service member said. “They are not just throwing a person in the back of a van and leaving them unattended. You’re putting somebody with medical capability in there with that patient while they are being transferred — that’s that concept of en-route care.”

As they watch events unfold nearby, they say it’s exactly the right time to prepare for the war of the future.

“There’s a sense of urgency, and I think, watching Ukraine right now, that is very prescient,” the member of the special forces said.