The future of military might may not just be in bigger and better hardware of warfare, but in fitter and faster brains of military personnel.
The Brain Training Company is at the cutting edge of mental fitness training. What was seen ten years ago as kooky executive training or fringe athletic training to achieve the mental edge, may now become a mainstream component of military training.
It is demonstrably possible to improve someone’s mental fitness; be that to increase IQ, manage stress better, enhance levels of focus and concentration when under pressure, or learning information at a greatly increased speed. The foundation of this at The Brain Training Company is brainwave training. Developing the ability to consciously control brainwave activity. From this there are knock on benefits, such as greater neural connectivity and increased blood flow to the brain.
For military personnel this is a critical step in improving personal performance – faster and better decision making when under pressure.
This article from Wired.com looks at this topic:
There’s concern in some corners of the U.S. military about “enemy activities in sleep research,” neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement, and “brain-computer interfaces.” And it’s not coming from the Pentagon’s scientific fringe, or from some tin-hat kook with a Defense Department badge. The celebrated scientists on the Pentagon’s most prestigious scientific advisory panel, JASON, are the ones worried about adversaries’ ability “to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security.”
In a recent report, unearthed by Secrecy News, the JASONs are recommending that the American military push ahead with its own performance-enhancement research — and monitor foreign studies — to make sure that the U.S.’ enemies don’t suddenly become smarter, faster, or better able to endure the harsh realities of war than American troops.
The JASONs are particularly concerned about (and excited by) new drugs that promote “brain plasticity” — rewiring the mind, essentially, by helping to “permanently establishing new neural pathways, and thus new cognitive capabilities.” The military has already tested these neuro-modulators as a way to keep troops alert after sleepless nights.
But these new drugs will certainly have extensive off-label use for improvement of memory and cognitive performance. [They] may have the additional effect of weakening or overwriting existing memories. Depending on the ultimate performance of these drugs, adversaries might use them in training programs or field operations… to increase troop effectiveness or modify troop behavior and/or emotional responses.
The scientific group also wants the military to keep close watch on the hardware and software which connects the human brain to machines.
American researchers have used these brain-computer interfaces to develop new prosthetics — and totrain monkeys to control robotic limbs. Northrop Grumman just won a Pentagon contract to develop binoculars that will tap the subconscious mind. The JASONs believe “the primary threat potential for adversarial use of a
…may arise in a feedback mode, in which a the interface provides a soldier with a simple signal or a pain/pleasure pulse in response to externally provided situational information.
Longer term adversarial developments may include prosthetic applications providing specialized sensory input or mechanical output.
None of this is likely to happen soon, of course. Even the most basic of these advances — a drug to effectively, consistently fight sleep deprivation — still isn’t ready for wartime. “If an opposing force had a significant sleep advantage, this would pose a serious threat. However, the technical likelihood of such a development is small at present,” the JASONs note.
But since “existing neuro-pharmaceuticals” are “used rather commonly… as study aids.” And since “the US military will certainly test whether, and to what extent, the new lessons of neuroscience can be used in military training… it is reasonable to expect that adversaries will do so as well. We do not expect the development of super-soldiers as a result of improved training, although enhanced military capability can certainly be expected.”
While it is possible to improve athletic performance using supplements, or banned substances (e.g the former East German sports teams), such improvements often are either small in effect, highly variable from individual to individual, or dependent on coordination with highly disciplined training regimes. As a result, the tactical advantage that might be gained by any adversary employing supplements is not likely to be overwhelming in general operations. Special circumstances, as in the use of khat in Somalia, can however contribute to unexpected enemy behavior. Therefore it is important for the US to establish and maintain awareness of adversaries’ uses of performance modifying substances (either as part of local culture, or officially established military policy).