Air Force

Air Force Experimenting With Electro-Brain Stimulation to Increase Alertness in Troops

  Words by Wes O'Donnell.

It is common knowledge that members of the military are often expected to put in long, countless hours of work while remaining sharp and alert regardless of their body’s desire to shut down and recuperate.  The growing need for increased security measures has required troops to spend many hours monitoring and analyzing surveillance and intelligence data which can prove to be mentally exhausting.  Multiple cups of coffee and energy drinks have provided some assistance in the past, but now a new option is being put to the test.  Low level electric brain stimulation, originally designed for the treatment of depression and other brain disorders, is now being tested on groups of volunteers participating in studies at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Air Force Experimenting With Electro-Brain Stimulation to Increase Alertness in Troops

Air Force going Total Recall-Style. Picture Courtesy Carolco Pictures/ Studio Canal.  

The intent of the study is to determine if this stimulation has the ability to increase the alertness and attentiveness of military members who have been deprived of sleep for various periods of time.  This procedure is noninvasive and only healthy troops are allowed in the study groups.  So far testing has shown an increase in overall alertness and acuity.  The study is also examining the effects that stimulation of the brain that would require to be performed regularly will not cause harm or damage to the troops.  So far the only adverse effects noted have been slight irritation caused by the adhesion of the electrodes to the skin and mild headaches that disappear after short periods of time.  When evaluation the results of the study it appears that in the near future it may become standard issue for troops in specified job areas to receive electrodes as part of the provided gear. 

The need to perform this study has come about due to the changes in the way conflicts are handled.  It used to be the countries with the most force and strength would win the wars.  Now, most battles are won by quickly and correctly sorting through provided intelligence data, formulating attack and defense strategies and implementing them.  Often these tasks are performed with high tech computers and machinery.  The soldiers behind the scenes have just as much effect on the outcome of the battles as those on the frontlines.  Not only do soldiers have to be physically alert and ready but mentally as well.

Air Force Experimenting With Electro-Brain Stimulation to Increase Alertness in Troops 

Photo courtesy of

In the past, use of electrotherapy treatments has been looked at as harsh and even cruel.  Doses were poorly monitored and often excessive causing severe side effects such as memory loss and bone fractures.  The therapy that is used in the present day is very closely monitored.   Doses are controlled and administration is precise, stimulating the intended portion of the brain to achieve the desired result.  In essence, it causes nerve impulses to occur more rapidly.  These techniques have receive support from organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Surgeon General in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders including major depression. 

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