Tags: health diplomacy, Hospitalships, Navy, Soft Power
Interest in sea-based health diplomacy is growing. Admiral Stavridis, SOUTHCOM commander and fellow USNI blogger recently argued for the creation of Navy Humanitarian Service Groups to project US smart-power abroad:
“What I am thinking about specifically is centering a group around a hospital ship and then including in that group several smaller ships that bring training capability with them”.
A major challenge with the type of mission Adm. Stavridis is suggesting is logistical: getting patients to the hospital or vice versa. The US Navy’s only two hospital ships are ill equipped for this task. Converted supertankers, both have deep drafts, no well decks, and limited airlift capabilities.
The ideal ship would be the LPD-17, which has a well deck, significant on board airlift capability, and a shallower draft. In fact, the LPD-17 forms the center of Navy Commander Henry Hendrix’ proposed Influence Squadrons. Augmented with a module akin to a field hospital, the LPD-17 could provide a flexible platform for disaster relief and health diplomacy.
Some question the feasibility of operating a field hospital on board transport ships. These critics contend that field hospitals require significant resources (power and water) and supplying adequate amounts onboard would be impossible. However, more than a decade ago the Chinese designed a system to do just that.
In the mid-90s PLAN developed a “ship-used medical module system” consisting of a series of interconnected shipping containers (similar to many modern field hospitals). The system allows cargo vessels to be employed as hospital ships. China’s little known Ship 865 (pictured) is an example of the medical module system in action, providing a medical facility, landing pad, and even an air control tower.
While the exact capabilities of Ship 865 and PLAN’s medical module system are not known, they provide a meaningful proof of concept. A Navy medical module, combined with the LPD-17, offers the capability and flexibility needed in future humanitarian missions.