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article imagePrepare for future of troops with 'mutant powers' Pentagon urged

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jan 3, 2013 in Technology
According to Calif. Polytechnic State Univ. researcher Patrick Lin, the US military is developing technologies that will give troops what he calls "mutant powers." Lin says, however, that the authorities are not yet considering the policy implications.
According to Lin and his colleagues, Maxwell Mehlman and Keith Abney, in a new report entitled, "Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics and Policy (PDF),” for The Green Foundation, "military human enhancements" will endow troops of the future with superior strength and endurance, superior cognitive powers, better teamwork skills and fearlessness.
The authors note that the military is at the threshold of a new era in military personnel enhancement technology as the field advances rapidly. They recommend that authorities should now begin thinking carefully about the broad implications before unleashing "super soldiers" on the battle field. The authors argue that the authorities need to begin considering the relevant moral-ethical, legal and general policy issues that arise, especially with regard to potential misuse or abuse of the technology.
The report discusses the poorly understood risks that arise with the development of "military human enhancements." The enhancements in question range from removable exoskeletons to internal implants, drugs, special nutrition, gene therapy, robotic implants and prostheses that may be used to enhance troop performance and effectiveness.
According to, Andrew Herr, working on a military human enhancement project for Pentagon, lists specific enhancement methods: focused diet and exercise regimens; injections of the stress-inhibiting brain molecule neuropeptide Y; electroshock-style Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to boost thinking; and gene therapy.
The research authors warn about the complications that may arise from failure to look ahead in anticipation of the policy and legal issues in relation to enhancement technologies. They cite as example the possibility that damage resulting from botched enhancement could lead to very expensive lawsuits. They point out that an enhanced soldier could also become an enhanced criminal. The researchers also say that fear of the new technology could lead to escalation of global arms race.
The authors write:
As with other emerging military technologies, such as robotics and cyber-capabilities, human enhancement technologies challenge existing laws and policy, as well as underlying ethical values. But while the implications of human enhancement generally have been widely discussed, little analysis currently exists for the military context—specifically operational, ethical, and legal implications of enhancing warfighters, such as:
How safe should these human enhancements and new medical treatments be prior to their deployment (considering recent controversies such as mandatory anthrax vaccinations)? Must enhancements be reversible or temporary (considering that most warfighters will return to society as civilians)? Could enhancements count as “biological weapons” under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (considering that the term is not clearly defined)?
According to, Lin said in an email: "With military enhancements and other technologies, the genie’s already out of the bottle: the benefits are too irresistible, and the military-industrial complex still has too much momentum. The best we can do now is to help develop policies in advance to prepare for these new technologies, not post hoc or after the fact (as we’re seeing with drones and cyberweapons)." cites the "Canadian friendly fire" incident, as an example of the type of complication that may arise in the event of deployment of enhanced soldiers to battle:
On April 18, 2002, a pair of Air Force F-16 fighter pilots returning from a 10-hour mission over Afghanistan saw flashes on the ground 18,000 feet below them. Thinking he and his wingman were under fire by insurgents, Maj. Harry Schmidt dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.
There were no insurgents — just Canadian troops on a live-fire exercise, four of whom were killed in the blast. The Air Force ultimately dropped criminal charges against Schmidt and wingman Maj. William Umbach but did strip them of their wings. In a letter of reprimand, Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson accused Schmidt of “willful misconduct” and “gross poor judgment.”
Schmidt countered, saying he was jittery from taking the stimulant Dexedrine, an amphetamine that the Air Force routinely prescribes for pilots flying long missions. “I don’t know what the effect was supposed to be,” Schmidt told Chicago magazine. “All I know is something [was] happening to my body and brain.”
The problem in this case was that although the Air Force blamed the pilot, the Food and Drug Administration warns that Dexedrine can cause “new or worse aggressive behavior or hostility,” thus providing grounds for the soldier to absolve himself of blame in the incident.
Was the drug to blame or the pilot?
The question is a foretaste of the sort of problems military authorities will have to deal with when soldiers with "mutant powers" are deployed to war zone.
According to the authors, “Somewhere in between robotics and biomedical research, we might arrive at the perfect future warfighter: one that is part machine and part human, striking a formidable balance between technology and our frailties.” writes:"Now imagine a future battlefield teeming with amphetamine-fueled pilots, a cyborg infantry and commanders whose brains have been shocked into achieving otherwise impossible levels of tactical cunning..."
According to Lin and his colleagues, the relevant questions in the future relate to regulation of enhancement technology in international law: "Which enhancements should be allowed in international law and which should be banned?" The researchers expand the relevant questions further: "Could enhanced warfighters be considered to be 'weapons' in themselves and therefore subject to regulation under the Laws of Armed Conflict? Or could an enhanced warfighter count as a'‘biological agent' under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention?"
Questions also arise as to rights of soldiers to accept or reject enhancement treatments/therapies. The researchers ask: “Should warfighters be required to give their informed consent to being enhanced, and if so, what should that process be?”
The researchers highlight the main questions that policy formulators should be asking, according to The Blaze: "Is there a legitimate military use? Is it really necessary, meaning there aren't other alternatives that could accomplish the intended goal? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?"
The research authors also stress issues relating to public transparency in the use of of enhancement technologies. illustrates the issue of transparency in military human enhancement research and application:
"The ethical concerns certainly have precedent. In a series of experiments in the 1970s aimed at developing hallucinogenic weapons, the Pentagon gave soldiers LSD — apparently without the subjects fully understanding the consequences of using the drug. During the Cold War U.S. troops were also exposed to nerve gas, psychochemicals and other toxic substances on an experimental basis and without their consent."
The authors strongly advise Pentagon to begin working to develop a moral-ethical and legal framework for regulation of military human enhancement technologies. They write: “In comic books and science fiction, we can suspend disbelief about the details associated with fantastical technologies and abilities, as represented by human enhancements. But in the real world — as life imitates art, and 'mutant powers' really are changing the world — the details matter and will require real investigations."
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