Andrew Herr is a man with a passion, a microbiologist on a personal crusade to morph the military into "biomods." What's a biomod? The unfettered definition is: a human biologically modified to accomplish specific tasks in almost superhuman ways.
Think of troops on the battlefield converted into Marvel Comic's X-Men (and X-Women).
Herr believes the future evolution of warfare is evolution through biological intervention and innovative assistance of nature.
The soldier of the not-too-distant future will be enhanced with skills augmented by DNA tweaks. Using an array of bio-tools employing—but not necessarily limited to—genetic enhancement, behavioral programming, neurological implants and chemical alteration of many biosystem functions. The future soldier's brain and brawn will be honed to a fighting machine that treads the earth like a giant among men: a super organism capable of lightning thought, better problem solving, and the ability to better integrate in a team (squad) effort to boost the chances of defeating or thwarting an enemy.
These "mutant-powered" troops may be invincible on the battlefield and one biomod trooper may be the equivalent of up to 50 ordinary foot soldiers.
This is the grand vision Herr has…yet the dream also contains a lingering nightmare: the troops are not American, but a potential enemy power.
The revolution of evolution
Enhanced, augmented, or accelerated evolution is being seriously addressed by factions in universities, the military and futurist movements like the Singularitists who advocate directing human evolution among a select elite that will eventually create super-minds through mind-machine melds and biomodification. This idea has now taken hold in the think tanks of the armed forces.
One of the chief proponents of the biomed mutant-powered soldier, 29-year-old Herr is a master of several critical disciplines who plys his knowledge of health physics and advanced microbiology within the shadowy corridors of the national security apparatus.
Calling his goal “more than evolutionary,” Herr has advanced his cause through a key consultancy with the Virginia company Scitor Corporation that works closely with US agencies developing advanced military projects and the darker, less known intelligence agencies that are so dark and so invisible their creation led to the phrase "intelligence spooks."
Ten years ago DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) began a biomod human enhancing project that faltered and died by 2008. Herr scooped up the broken shards of that abandoned project to advance a more ambitious vision, a greater goal.
Broadening the scope and inclusion of various services, Herr has gained strong support from powers within the Pentagon that share his concept of biologically enhanced super-troops.
"But for these combatants," David Axe writes at Wired.com, "the Pentagon wants to go beyond merely encouraging self-enhancement. Patrick Lin, a professor at California Polytechnic State, notes the military’s 'ongoing interest in using pharmaceuticals, such as modafinil (a cognitive enhancer), dietary supplements, as well as gene therapy to boost the performance of warfighters.'
"And in February the British Royal Society identified four small-scale DARPA biomodification efforts focusing on stress-reduction and neurological enhancement, plus an obscure Air Force program aimed at the 'exploitation of external stimulant technology' to enable airmen 'to receive and process greater amounts of operationally relevant information.' That’s generally understood to mean drugs."
Weapons grade mutations
It's a scenario that might have been ripped from Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," one in which designer humans are bio-programmed to become scientists, professors, politicians, laborers, farmers…or soldiers.
Herr is particularly worried about the ethical applications and what potential adversaries like Russia and China might do with the newly emerging technology of biomods.
“Other countries are probably much more likely to take advantage of these [technologies],” Wired quotes Herr as saying. “The question will be how they do it.”
Genetic "bombs" designed to cause defects in enemy combatants are also on the table.
"In one dire scenario," Axe postulates, "an army might attack its enemies by changing their physiology to make them dumber, slower, more afraid. In The Atlantic recently, two researchers even discussed the possibility of governments or terror groups genetically assassinating enemy leaders by tailoring cancers specifically to the target’s DNA. The authors pointed out that the U.S. State Department already surreptitiously collects DNA samples from foreign dignitaries."
Not all scientists and engineers, however, are embracing the concept.
Authors Patrick Lin, PhD, Maxwell Mehlman, JD and Keith Abney ABD, have written a 108-page report outlining the potential pitfalls and dangers of bio-engineering humans for combat, or any other purpose. They believe many risks are associated with “human enhancement projects recently or currently pursued by militaries worldwide.”
The full report, "Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics, and Policy" is available here.