Traditional hospital ships cannot project biomedical expertise onto a battlefield threatened by biological attack. Recent tests of focused-mission ships suggest that these prototypes might be ideal.
When confronted by a far-flung anti-terror conflict or the prospect of biological attack, the traditional conception of the hospital ship as a supersized "white elephant" is terribly inadequate. Navy medicine's alternative approach to biomedical support—making medical care an "organic" component of fleet combatants—is plagued by doubts that floating organic medical resources can provide high-quality casualty care on a complex expeditionary battlefield. In practice, orienting the carriers or multimission amphibians toward casualty care is an unwelcome distraction for these busy, front-line assets. This open niche can be filled by a handful of small, focused-mission ships capable of meeting the medical demands of a more dispersed and agile military.