Exoskeletons and drugs – is this what tomorrow’s war looks like?

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The use of biotechnology will change the way warfare is waged. This applies not only to biological weapons, but also to technology for increasing the performance of soldiers. A Bundeswehr expert calls for these technologies to be regulated internationally. German military scientists warn against a possible uninhibited use of biotechnology to improve the performance of future soldiers. It is therefore necessary to better monitor the use of new technologies and regulate them internationally, explains flotilla doctor Christian Haggenmiller, researcher at the Bundeswehr think tank GIDS (German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies). Haggenmiller heads a working group in a military research network (Multinational Capability Development Campaign / MCDC) in which NATO, the EU and 22 countries sound out opportunities and risks. The physician deals with performance-enhancing and performance-reducing applications on humans. It’s about the use of biosensors, implants, robot suits to support the human musculoskeletal system and interfaces between humans and machines.

The new methods go beyond “optimization” through sport and training and lead into the field of artificial abilities (“enhancement”). Since long-known technology such as binoculars and compressed air cylinders for divers can also belong to this group, new definition questions arise. Also politically explosive: Technologies that reduce the fighting power of the enemy (“degradation”). This is possible, for example, through targeted irradiation with ultrasound or microwaves. It is also possible to manipulate and intercept data such as those generated by biosensors or fitness watches.

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“Without pre-empting my working group at the MCDC: I strongly recommend the creation of a multinational, interdisciplinary center for the observation and assessment of potential dangers,” said Haggenmiller. “The enormous field of biotechnology will have a massive impact on our societies and be a key element of future wars.” There is already a foretaste of how armed forces work together. “It can happen that some nations legally, on the basis of their national laws, use performance-enhancing agents or devices that are prohibited by others,” said Haggenmiller. An example: “If some people can fight through for a week because of medication, while others are not allowed to take these substances and on the fifth day are no longer able to provide fire protection, an imbalance is obviously created. We want to avoid this through internationally accepted medical methods and ethical standards. “

Uniform rules required

The use of drugs to increase performance is prohibited in the Bundeswehr. So-called exoskeletons are being tested. These are machines that you can pull on and that help lift and carry heavy loads. Haggenmiller assumes that other nations are already investing considerably more money in these projects, including “degradation”. “Other nations are less afraid of certain developments and have a different ethical and legal understanding,” says the researcher. A serious problem arises if biotechnology becomes easier to handle in the relatively near future. Criminal or terrorist organizations, possibly supported by states, could then come into possession of biological weapons by modifying viruses, bacteria or spores. “We have to think about such scenarios. We have to create rules and instances before what was fiction yesterday takes shape.” Haggenmiller regards research as a contribution to preventive safety. “I analyze, raise awareness and put the extremely dynamic, sometimes explosive developments up for discussion, but I don’t approve of them. Neither as a scientist nor as a citizen in uniform.” And: “For me it is immensely important that we prevent penetration into gray areas and beyond. To do this, we need a public debate in Germany and internationally.”

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