A U.S. soldier of the 3rd Squadron 61st Cavalry Regiment shields himself from the dust as Blackhawk helicopters take off from the city of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, March 5, 2007. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (IRAQ)

With deep pockets and a desire to gain the upper hand, the world’s armies have often driven technological innovation from the most modern to the simplest. One example is duct tape the result of a suggestion from an Illinois artillery factory worker who had children who served in the navy during World War II.

Concerned about the soldiers under fire having to manipulate the flimsy paper tape used to seal the ammunition boxes, Vesta Stoudt came up with a solution: waterproof cloth tape. He was unable to win the support of his supervisors but was more successful when he wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who instructed the war producers to make his idea a reality. At the announce a new initiative in 2014, then-President Barack Obama told the reporter basically, I’m here to announce that we are building to Iron Man.

There was laughter, but he was serious: the US military had already begun work on developing a protective suit, known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos). A promotional video similar to a video game showed a user breaking into an enemy cell while the bullets bouncing ban on armor. Iron Man did not become five years later, the initiative ended. But the manufacturers hope that the individual components of the suit will have other uses. This ambition is nothing new since ancient times, troops have been strengthened by advances in weaponry, equipment, and training.

But today we are talking about much more than just giving a soldier a better weapon. It could mean upsetting the same soldier.

In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that humanity could soon create something worse than a nuclear bomb. One can imagine that a man can create a man with some characteristics given, not only in theory but also in practice. It may be a mathematical genius brilliant musician or soldier, a man who pued to fight without fear, compassion regret, or pain Putin said. And last year, then-US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe went further with a forceful indictment against China.

China has already conducted human trials with members of the People’s Liberation Army in the hopes of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities. There are no ethical limits to Beijing’s quest for power he wrote in The Wall Street Journal. But when asked if the new DNI holder, Avril Haines, shared her predecessor’s assessment, her office said it had comments, but pointed to statements warning of the threat posed by China.

And while the administration of President Joe Biden has scrapped much of Donald Trump’s agenda, tensions with China are likely to remain a feature of US foreign policy. Ambition vs reality having a supersoldier in their ranks is a tantalizing prospect for the military – imagine a soldier who can endure pain, extreme cold, or lack of sleep. But as shown by the US attempts to build an Iron Man, l os limits of technological ogy can drag ambition land. A 2019 paper by two American scholars, however, claims that China’s military has been “actively exploring” techniques such as gene editing, exoskeletons, and human-machine collaboration.

The report was based primarily on comments from Chinese military strategists. And one of the authors, Elsa Kania, was skeptical of Ratcliffe’s comments. It is important to understand what the Chinese military is discussing and aspiring to update, but also to recognize the distance between those ambitions and the reality of where the technology is at the moment said Kania, principal investigator at the Center for a New American Security.

While armies around the world may have a lot of interest in the possibility of supersoldiers at the end of the day what is doable within science restricts any actor trying to push the boundaries he added. For example, Ratcliffe mentioned testing in adults. But while some of its characteristics could be altered through gene editing, changing embryo DNA would offer one of the most plausible routes to a supersoldier.

And for Dr. Helen O’Neill, a molecular geneticist at University College London, the question is whether scientists would be willing to use such technology, rather than whether it exists. Those technologies – genome editing and their combination with assisted reproduction – are becoming routine practices in GMOs and agriculture. It is only the combination of the two for use in humans that is considered unethical at this time He said. In 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui made a surprising announcement. He had successfully altered the DNA of twin embryos to prevent them from contracting HIV.

The announcement sparked outrage because e ste genetic editing work is prohibited in most countries, including China. It is normally restricted to discarded IVF embryos, provided they are destroyed immediately afterward and are not used to produce a baby. And although the scientist defended his work, it landed him in jail for defying government bans. Many of those interviewed for this to the He Jiankui case as a key moment in bioethics. But scientists have also reported that, in addition to protecting them from HIV, the treatment applied to the twins also brought cognitive improvements for them.

He Jiankui used CRISPR technology, a way to make specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells. Some traits can be removed and others can be added. It is a very promising technology, as it could potentially be used to treat or even cure inherited diseases. What then could it do for the military? Christophe Galichet, the principal research scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, describes CRISPR as a “revolution. “But it has limits he says, comparing it to finding and replacing text in a document: you can easily interchange precise phrases, but what works at one point in the text may not make sense at another.

It is wrong to think that a gene will have only one effect, he explains. If you take a gene, you could have an individual with bigger muscles or who can breathe at high altitude. But maybe later the individual will develop cancer. It is also difficult to isolate some traits. For example, many genes are involved in height. And any trait that is changed will be passed down from generation to generation.

Some Analysts See China’s Efforts As A Direct Response To The United States.

A 2017 Guardian report said a US military agency was investing tens of millions in genetic extinction technology that could wipe out invasive species, something that UN experts warned could have military applications. And China and the US nor are the only countries seeking an advantage: the armed forces of France have received approval to develop enhanced soldiers and there is already a report that establishes the ethical limits of research. We must face the facts. Not all share our scruples and we must be prepared for what the future holds said French Defense Minister Florence Parly. Even if scientists could safely improve the attributes of an individual, the application in the military field also poses its own problems.

For example, could an individual soldier freely consent to potentially risky treatment within the army command structure? Both China and Russia are reported to have tested covid vaccines on their troops. The army does not exist to protect the interests of the soldier, it exists to gain a strategic advantage or win a war says Professor Julian Savulescu, an ethicist at the University of Oxford. There are limits to the risks that can be imposed on soldiers, but they are higher than those imposed on normal society he adds. Professor Savulescu says that for anyone, it is important to weigh the risks of an improvement against the benefits. But of course, he added, the equation is different in the military individual beings will assume the risks, but often they will not benefit, he warns.

In fact, soldiers are often put into life and death situations, and it might be thought that improvement should be welcome if it ensured their survival. But for Professor Patrick Lin, a philosopher at California State Polytechnic University, things are not so simple. Military upgrades mean experimenting and putting their own citizens at risk, so it is unclear how better protected upgraded soldiers could be. On the contrary, they could be sent on more dangerous missions or take more risks than unenhanced ones. Explain.

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Captain America may not be around the corner yet, but there is always the possibility of a surprise development. It is difficult to exercise any ethical or democratic control over how things evolve in the military because, by nature, they use secrecy and privacy to protect the national interest warns Professor Savulescu. So it’s a difficult ethical question. It’s hard enough these days in science or medicine, where things are reasonably open

And as for what could, or should, be done to regulate the field, Professor Lin believes that a key challenge is that almost all of this is dual-use research. For example, exoskeleton research had the first goal of helping or curing people with medical conditions, such as helping paralyzed patients to walk again he recalls. The innovative exoskeleton helped a paralyzed man move his four limbs with mental stimuli but this therapeutic use can be adapted easily ara military purposes, and it is not obvious how to prevent that from happening, which means it is not obvious how to regulate it without perhaps also frustrates r therapeutic research,  he adds.

For his part, Dr. O’Neill cautions that China has already made progress in genetic research and other countries have put themselves at a disadvantage. I think we have wasted time on ethical arguments, instead of focusing on the reality of the here and now he says. Too much energy is spent on speculation and dystopia, and much more energy must be spent on real risks and applying technology to better understand it because it will be done elsewhere and it is already done elsewhere. And it is only with more research that we will understand where it is that things can go wrong he concludes.