A French soldier from the Sentinelle security operation, wearing a protective face mask, patrols the streets after France has raised its national security alert to the highest level following recent attacks, in Paris, France, November 19, 2020.

French army gets green light for bionic soldiers

Image credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The French armed forces have been given permission to develop ‘augmented soldiers’. This follows the country’s military ethics committee giving the go-ahead for research into new enhancing technologies.

In a report released to the public on Tuesday (8 December), the committee, made up of 18 professionals from different fields, said it was “imperative not to inhibit research into the enhanced soldier”.

The report also considers medical treatments, prosthetics, and implants that improve “physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities”, and could allow for location tracking or connectivity with weapons systems and other soldiers.

Other possible interventions considered by the armed forces ethics committee include implants to increase soldiers’ “cerebral capacity” and to make them immune to stress. Drugs to improve service member’s mental resilience in the event they were captured are also being considered.

The report added that without enabling research into technologies such as these, the French armed forces would be at a disadvantage compared to other countries’ militaries. But the committee laid out an ethical framework for hypothetical interventions.

The committee said that France needs to maintain the “operational superiority of its armed forces in a challenging strategic context” while respecting the rules governing the military, humanitarian law, and the “fundamental values of our society”.

As a result, it has forbidden any modification that would affect a soldier's ability to manage the use of force or affect their sense of “humanity”. Further examples of banned modifications include cognitive implants that would affect the exercise of a soldier's free will or changes that would affect their reintegration into civilian life.

Florence Parly, the French armed forces minister, who asked the committee to consider the issue of “augmented” soldiers in January this year, said that the “invasive” modifications were not part of the army’s current plans. “But we have to be clear-headed, not everyone has our scruples and it is a future for which we must prepare,” she added.

But Parly did leave the door open to future changes in policy. "It's an opinion which isn't set in stone and will be regularly reassessed in the light of future developments," she said.

According to the press release, the defence ethics committee was created at the end of 2019 and is tasked with providing clarity on ethical questions raised by the potential military applications of scientific and technological innovations.

The release of the report follows an opinion column from US Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, in the Wall Street Journal, in which he raised concerns about China’s threat to the US and world democracy, as well as its plans for military technology.

“US intelligence shows that China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities,” Ratcliffe wrote. “There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing's pursuit of power.”

In response to the column, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs slammed the op-ed and called on “some politicians on the US side” to “to stop producing and spreading political viruses and lies”.

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