China’s military tests nurses in nighttime island landing simulation

·4 min read

The People’s Liberation Army is training military nurses using a boat simulator to prepare them for a combat situation involving an island landing.

More than 300 nurses from an unspecified military hospital took part in the first round of training from July 2020 to February this year – the first time the PLA has conducted this type of simulation exercise for nurses.

Its Joint Logistics Support Force said the nurses had to administer medication via an intravenous line in near-complete darkness in a simulation of a nighttime combat scenario at sea, with waves of 2 metres (6.5ft).

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“There would be insufficient light and turbulent waves in a combat environment when crossing the sea and landing on an island, which makes it risky to perform intravenous infusion, but also affects follow-up treatment of the wounded and sick,” a team led by Jiao Wei from the logistics support force wrote in the Chinese-language Military Medical Journal of Southeast China last month.

“In information-based modern warfare, marine medical rescue and evacuation is challenged by a more complex environment … simulation training can recreate the ship’s environment to a certain extent, so that nursing staff can adapt to the special environment at sea.”

It comes amid soaring tensions across the Taiwan Strait, with the PLA ramping up military activities near self-ruled Taiwan and upgrading and reinforcing airbases near the island. Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

The training was held outdoors during the day and the nurses wore goggles that blocked out most of the light. That meant they had to rely mostly on touch to locate a vein in a patient’s arm to administer medication, and they also had to do this while trying to steady themselves aboard the boat simulator as it rocked from side to side.

According to the paper, about one-third of the time the nurses were unable to complete the task at the start. But after three days of training to handle the conditions, the error rate was reduced to about one-tenth of the time.

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While the team concluded that the training had been effective, they said it was still not satisfactory because the average time to insert an IV and administer potentially life-saving medication under pressure was about six minutes – and that may not be fast enough. Nurses could also have to contend with added pressures such as the sound of gunfire, mechanical noise, bad weather and sea sickness during a real combat situation, some of which will be part of future training.

An earlier PLA study in Fuzhou, Fujian province also found that its medics were not completely ready for battle. The scenario for that study, published in the same journal in May last year, was that medics had to deal with a huge number of casualties after warships were sunk by nuclear weapons during an island landing operation. It concluded that most PLA medics had not been trained to handle injuries in such an extreme environment.

China’s military is meanwhile developing a hi-tech health management system for the battlefield, and in particular an island landing situation, based on artificial intelligence technology.

A new digital health monitor has been designed for troops to wear that would automatically report their condition and location. Based on the data, the AI would decide which soldier should get treated first and guide the nearest medic to them, according to a study by the PLA Naval Medical University in Shanghai.

“The large-scale use of hi-tech weapons will make any future landing operation extremely brutal, with far more casualties than a conventional battle,” He Tianlin, a professor with the university, wrote in the Journal of Navy Medicine in May. “An AI-based medical support system will play an important role and could even change the course of a battle.”

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