Related video Above: Army Scientists Explain New AI-Human Brain Sensing
When facing a high-speed enemy attack and dodging incoming enemy fire, a soldier's heart rate rushes up, breathing intensifies and cognition can greatly accelerate. While these things may seem overly obvious, they introduce interesting and extremely significant tactical implications.
Perhaps an infantry soldier maneuvers quickly, jumps, ducks for cover or runs to contact to close with an enemy? There will be elements of fatigue of potential physiological significance. If a soldier has not rested in several days, performance, concentration and speed of movement might well be impaired.
Not only are these variables of great relevance to combat, but they are also increasingly measurable. While stress can of course generate a wide range of physiological impact, one lesser recognized reality is that it might actually improve performance, according to Army scientists now researching and experimenting with ways to measure and analyze physiological nuances.
While under stress, a soldier may become more vigilant and operate with must sharper, faster focus. Fear, anxiety and a jumping heart rate can streamline or even sharpen senses to some extent, making a soldier a bit quicker, precise or more reactive.
“Stress is not always bad. Complacency gets us hurt,” Joseph E Patterson, Soldier Performance Strategist Optimizing the Human Weapon System (OHWS) Project Lead, Army Futures Command, DEVCOM Soldier Center, told The National Interest in an interview.
The program is a unity of effort within the Army Futures Command. Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC) in conjunction with DEVCOM Soldier Center, service officials said.
Measuring Soldier Performance
The OHWS project is a cutting edge research effort focused on measuring and analyzing human physiological and psychological variables with a mind to taking care of soldiers and optimizing combat performance.
“The human being is the most important capability we have on the battlefield. We can use stress to our advantage,” Patterson explained.
The program is a research and development effort with DEVCOM, the Army soldier center within Army Futures Command, and its focus is adding context and analysis to physiological markers and understanding human performance data. The goal, Patterson explains, is the optimize the human weapons systems.
Using body sensors such as watches to monitor heart rate and other technologies from the commercial arena such as from the health industry or sports world, the OHWS program seeks to not only greatly assist actual combat performance but also streamline training.
The sensors can, for example, measure the amount of sleep deprivation and inform human decision-makers about the operational impact of anxiety, sadness or soldier depression.
By comparing physiological markers from worn sensors, Army health professionals can conduct interviews with soldiers to merge the data with more subjective variables such as mood or feeling to create an integrated picture with which to make decisions or inform commanders.
“What we have seen, for instance, is a mood change four days prior to disruption of sleep. Sleep disruption can be an indicator of stress. Sleep is foundational as a variable which impacts cognitive performance,” Patterson said.
There are also more purely medical factors such as an ability to locate early phases of a sickness such as the flu, infection or even covid.
The Army is exploring what high op-tempo, little rest and sustained combat have upon soldier performance under stress, as a way to better understand human capacity, improve training and ultimately optimize warfare performance.
It is a five year Army Science and Technology program led by DEVCOM Soldier Center, Army Futures Command, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Combat Lethality Task Force.
Measure and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness (MASTR-E)
It is primarily focused on measuring and predicting human performance. The initiative is called Measure and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness (MASTR-E).
“We are seeking to maximize human potential by developing and applying quantitative measurements of performance under stress,” George Matook, MASTR-E program manager, DEVCOM Soldier Center, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an interview.
Soldier mind, body and physiological research and experimentation is being done to assess key bio-markers such as heart rate, respiration, cognitive performance and social and emotional variables.
If one platoon has been up for several days, soldiers’ response time, aiming and attacking accuracy and movement under fire might be greatly impacted. What is the extent of these kinds of things to varying degrees? Are there physiological factors which can quickly impact and change attack accuracy or combat maneuver?
A key goal, along with of course measuring and protecting soldier health, is to help form a predictive model for Army leaders in a position to make key, time-sensitive combat decisions.
Performance can be assessed in a training environment to help generate data needed to form conclusions, conduct analyses and make effective recommendations to decision makers. If a soldier is running down a field with their weapon, Matook explained, their heart rate will change. Yet another example is how an inertial measurement unit could be embedded into a soldier’s helmet to make key determinations. Commanders can have a cognitive and physical readiness status about how a given unit might make decisions or perform in combat.
“We will have information with which to make risk-informed decisions, as it is a risk management tool,” Matook said. “How would I use this to fight?”
Given the pace and volume of incoming information, one is likely to think of AI-enabled computer algorithms when it comes to organizing gathered data with a mind to performing analyses and identifying key moments of relevance essential to making determinations.
An AI-empowered computer system could, for example, average a large amount of heart rate readings, body temperature, oxygen capacity and other key indicators, bounce them off of a vast, compiled database to solve problems and make essential, time-sensitive decisions.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.