How can the military best give soldiers an advantage on the future battlefield? This is the question that drives human performance enhancement (HPE) researchers to discover ways to make soldiers faster and stronger, with increased endurance and awareness. The goal of this paper is to briefly discuss the value of HPE, the current capabilities of 3d bioprinting technology, and the possible application of those capabilities to solve the HPE problem in the future military.
Though there are many who feel that the human factor will become less relevant in our age of advanced robotics, drones, and autonomous vehicle technology, those technologies are still a ways away from being fully operational, and that humans with their decision-making capabilities will continue to be an integral part of armed conflicts, and will likely have a presence on the ground for the foreseeable future. HPE and Ethics researcher Patrick Lin says “one of the weakest links in armed conflicts-as well as one of the most valuable assets-continues to be the warfighters themselves,” which seems to be a view shared by the current military, as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has spent millions of dollars in the recent years on a variety of projects focused on HPE.
Many current HPE efforts include external modifications, like robotic exoskeletons for heavy lifting, telescoping contact lenses to improve vision, and use of stimulants like amphetamines to keep pilots alert on long missions . Though these efforts may be promising, they each encounter limitations: the external modifications can be expensive and time consuming to fabricate, and like all technology, are subject to equipment failures and require an external power source to operate, which may only have a short battery life. The stimulants and drugs can have negative side effects, as shown in a 2002 incident where USAF pilots accidentally dropped bombs on a group of Canadians in Afghanistan after being given amphetamines to prevent fatigue during long missions, which some argued impaired their vision. These limitations suggest that even though there are many current HPE efforts already being researched, it may be worth continuing to consider possible alternatives.
Though 3d bioprinting is very much still an emerging technology, with the first patent being granted in 2006, it offers unique possibilities for HPE. By using this technology, would it be possible to print not just replacement body parts for repairing the system, but augmented or enhanced parts to improve performance? Of course that issues carries with it a host of moral and ethical implications, but the military has already shown interest in using traditional 3d printers for printing on-site repairs of equipment, so using additive manufacturing for HPE might not be that far-fetched.
Understanding the current 3d bioprinting process is a starting point for planning possible augmented enhancements in the future.
Projected Capabilities and Types of Enhancements- As the technology develops and the limiting factors previously identified are resolved, bioprinting may be able to create modified body parts for HPE. When considering how bioprinting seems to offer an endlessly customizable array of options for HPE, there are two criteria that are useful to keep in mind when determining which enhancements make the most sense. First, the human body already works very well the way it is. The enhancements with the greatest chance of success are those that most closely resemble the existing body parts. The more radically an enhancement diverges from the original body part, the less likely it is to function well with the other surrounding tissues in the body. Secondly, the human body has a finite amount of space inside it, and therefore any enhancement must be sized appropriately to fit. Keeping these two criteria in mind helps narrow down the range of potential enhancements to those that would be the most realistically successful.
The possible advantages of using printed enhancements could be reduced training costs, a low rate of implant rejection if the tissues were printed with a soldier’s own genetic material, and the fact that the printing may not require an entire laboratory facility and might be more mobile, as we are seeing traditional 3d printers become small and more mobile as the technology develops. If the military chose to give enhancements to members of the Special Forces community, a group with a very high rate of physical injury, instead of new recruits, then it might allow the military to benefit from their experience for a longer amount of time. This could potentially reduce new Special Forces recruits needed every year and the associated cost of training them.
Concerns- Some issues to consider involve foreign country competition, security, and moral/ethical concerns. Many foreign countries are investing heavily in this technology. If the U.S. begins using bioprinting to improve the military, what are the odds that other countries may attempt to do the same? If so, would we lose whatever advantage enhanced forces provided? Additionally, because part of the process involves digital information, would it be vulnerable to hacking? Could another country or cyber actor access and steal digital blueprints? Some ethics researchers expressed hesitation when considering an enhanced or augmented military with soldiers whose capabilities far exceeded the human baseline, and posed the question of whether an enhanced soldier would count as a weapon under the Geneva Conventions. 27 Some with religious concerns might feel that this type of modification could be inappropriate because improving the human body outside of what is naturally possible could be seen as “playing God.” Reassuring and educating this part of the population might help popular opinion in this area.
In conclusion, human beings will likely to continue to play a direct role in combat, even with recent technological advancements, and performance enhancement is an important concern for the future. Though the bioprinting technology still has to advance beyond some current obstacles, future bioprinting may offer the possibility of a customizable enhancement process with a low rate of rejection.
From : Small wars journal. Read full article here.