The use of biological weapons has been banned since long, but the US Army is looking into various aspects of biotechnology to further its battlefield capabilities. The American Army brass and the concerned scientists are focussed into innovative uses of biotechnology, and not into the use of biological weapons. During and after the Gulf War the United Nations suspected and blamed Sadam Hussain for keeping large stocks of biological weapons of mass destruction, and authorized the United States and the United Kingdom to detect and destroy them. The Government of Iraq denied such allegations and cooperated with the UN search and destroy operations. Inspite of years of search of suspected sites with advanced technology detection systems no biological weapons could be found on Iraqi soil.
Neither it could be affirmed that Iraq had the technology to manufacture biological weapons or use biotechnology to enhance battlefield capabilities of the Iraqi Army. Iraq had cooperated with the UN in the hope that UN-US-UK imposed sanctions would be lifted and barbaric bombing of Iraq would be stopped. Iraq withdrew its cooperation when the UN under US-UK diktat rejected the offers of cooperation of Saddam Hussain’s Administration. USAF and the RAFs F-16s and Tornadoes have continued bombing Iraqi installations and populated areas, and have killed nearly one million Iraqi children by stiff sanctions, and bombing operations. Independent ME experts were convinced that Iraq did not possess biotechnology, or biological expertise to develop bio-weapons or lethal biogases. UN-US allegations were levelled to tarnish and subdue Saddam Hussain.
Even though biological weapons are banned, and Iraqi territory is bombed on a weekly basis on the pretext of Iraqi refusal to allow UN experts to unearth hidden biological weapons in Iraq; US military planners are engaged in active research to bring biotechnology to the battlefield. Many US Army generals are convinced that biotechnology will change the way future war will be fought. Biotechnology experts say that ‘It is clear we have to get there before others get there.’ The US Army has commissioned a team of scientists, and a panel of experts to identify and highlight ‘the extraordinary range of military opportunities in biotechnology.’ The report based on the ideas and recommendations of scientists and experts will be sent to the Pentagon as soon as it is ready. Professor Mauro Ferrari who is a professor of internal medicine and biomedical engineering at Ohio State University has been hired to co-author the final report. Biotechnology research will focus on developing bio-weapons and munitions for operational use and battle possibilities some time around 2025. ‘The planning horizon’ for the National Research Council’s 16-member Board on Army Science and Technology has been asked to develop the following:
a. Bio-engineered tracking agents and tablets soldiers would swallow before entering the battlefields. This would help Army commanders to monitor troop movements. Such a capability will greatly improve control and command of troops in battle. It will help commanders and specially equipped army snipers to distinguish between friend and foe. It will help in the concentration of infantry forces at the point of attack.
b. To develop non-illuminating paints to make military vehicles, including APC’s and tanks invisible to enemy radars. Stealth aircraft have already been developed. Their radar evasion capability is because of highly streamlined airframe design; use of special composites in making airframe and structures so that radar reflection is minimum. Already tank designs have incorporated the advanced technologies employed in the manufacture of fighter and bomber aircraft. The non-illuminating paints use on armour will make it almost invisible to the present day battlefield radars.
c. To develop wrist-top biosensors to guard against germ warfare. This will be in combination with vaccines that could be administered rapidly to troops in the field.
d. Scientists have also been tasked to develop ‘functional foods’ i.e. rations laced with edible bio-vaccines.
e. To develop armour ‘as flexible as skin, tough as abalone shell and enhanced with “living characteristics.’ Such as the ability to heal itself when torn. With ‘self-healing properties,’ armoured vehicles will become capable of self-repair in the shortest possible time.
f. Even more ‘far-out possibilities are being considered.’ These fall under the general heading of biology-based ‘performance enhancement for soldiers, including brain implants, real time monitoring of gene expression and performing enhancing drugs without side effects.’
g. The US army has been told to focus research on five high priority areas. These are small scale production of special vaccines; self-replicating systems for wound healing, rugged computer data-storage devices; shock therapeutics, and genetically tuned vaccines.
Some items on the list raised ethical problems, which were not addressed in the report, titled ‘Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications.’ What circumstances might warrant tracking a soldier’s DNA for example were not spelled out in detail. Robert Love staff director for the panel said the US Army had no choice but to explore new ways to support troops more effectively in future battlefields. He said that bio-engineered field rations designed for easy digestion will make infantrymen alert and active. Biosensors ingested by soldiers, represent a very important idea for tracking troops heading into harms way. This will reduce casualties, and would be a morale raiser. ‘The digital soldier already carries lot of electronic equipment, and this is a new dimension of intelligence on the battlefield.’ But the panel steered away from speculating as to which device, gadget or vaccine would actually work.
Professor Michael Landish, director of biotech research at Purdue University, said that the military needs to take bio-tech research seriously even if some of the proposals seem outlandish now. The US Army needs to keep on top of biotech research to win future battles. Presently the requirement is to bolster the US military’s capability to evaluate bio-technology. The idea is to equip the Pentagon with expertise to determine which research projects are important to the country’s defences, and of those which can be left up to the private industry and which need Pentagon grants and technical support to bring to fruition.
Meetings of the US military brass to discuss the details of the above proposals are planned later this year. US Army is leading the way and has carried out various studies on the subject of biological defence. The US Army ‘has digested the report on the battlefield uses of biotechnology,’ and will pursue the matter more vigorously to benefit from this new emerging technology.