Like something out of every science fiction movie ever made, in the not-so-distant future, soldiers in the U.S. military could have mutant powers. Before your mind starts going all X-Men on you, it’s not quite that extreme. We’re not talking teleportation and the ability to grow retractable claws made of adamantium unfortunately, but we are talking what is being referred to as “military human enhancements.”
Basically, the “mutant powers” will be increased strength and endurance that come in the form of drugs, specified nutrition, various robotic implants, and gene therapy. These adjustments to the human body could have an incredibly dramatic affect in future combat. According to researchers, “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.”
While the perfect soldier is something that every country’s military desires, with all the pros, there are bound to be some cons. There are a number of things that could go wrong in the process. Robotic could malfunction and cause harm to the soldiers they were supposed to improve. And of course with drugs, there is always the issue of side effects.
An example of the dangers of side effects came in 2002 when a couple of Air Force F-16 fighter pilots accidentally dropped a giant laser-guided bomb on Canadian troops. They mistook flashes on the ground below them as an attack by insurgents from Afghanistan. Maj. Harry Schmidt, who pulled the trigger, claimed that he was overly anxious as a result of taking Dexedrine, a stimulant often prescribed to Air Force pilots for long flights. The FDA lists “new or worse aggressive behavior or hostility” as potential side effect of the drug. While the Air Force blamed the pilots, there was no way to prove that the Dexedrine didn’t have any effect on their actions, so all criminal charges were dropped, but they were stripped of their wings.
Still, you don’t get anywhere without some trial and error. And eventually, we’ll move closer to building that perfect army. Another question that arises is whether there should be an international law in advance that regulates any enhancements. If one side manages to deploy that perfect army, it could cause an arms race of outrageous proportions.
To take proper precaution, researchers involved believe that the military should consider certain rules while working towards these enhancements: “Is there a legitimate military purpose? Is it necessary? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Can subjects’ dignity be maintained and the cost to them minimized? Is there full, informed consent, transparency and are the costs of the enhancement fairly distributed? Finally, are systems in place to hold accountable those overseeing the enhancement?”
“In comic books and science fiction, we can suspend disbelief about the details associated with fantastical technologies and abilities, as represented by human enhancements,” the researchers warn. “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.”