The turn of the century “was a radical time to be at DARPA,” Goldblatt said. He believed that defense sciences could demonstrate that “the next frontier was inside of our own selves,” and he became a pioneer in military-based transhumanism—the notion that man can alter the human condition fundamentally by augmenting the body with machines and other means. At the time, the threat from biological warfare was in his words “growing far faster than the solutions were coming in. … [President] Clinton gave lots of money to the countermeasures program for unconventional pathogens,” with the result that DARPA had plenty of funding for biology programs. Goldblatt saw the creation of the super-soldier as imperative to 21st-century warfare.
Goldblatt ran the DSO until 2004, and when he spoke to me last year, he could only describe unclassified programs. More than 10 years after his departure, the status of the “super-soldier” pursuits he helped launch is murky; DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs remain secret until they are unveiled on the battlefield. Still, given the progress of the exoskeleton, these or similar programs could be closer to reality than anyone realizes.
“Soldiers having no physical, physiological, or cognitive limitation will be key to survival and operational dominance in the future,” Goldblatt told his program managers a few weeks after his arrival. One program in the DSO, called Persistence in Combat, addressed three areas that slowed soldiers down on the battlefield: pain, wounds, and excessive bleeding.
Goldblatt hired a biotechnology firm to develop a pain vaccine. If a soldier got shot, Goldblatt explained, the vaccine would “reduce the pain triggered by inflammation and swelling,” the desired result being “10 to 30 seconds of agony then no pain for 30 days.” Such a vaccine would allow the warfighter to keep fighting so long as bleeding could be stopped. To develop new ways to try to stop bleeding, Goldblatt initiated another program that involved injecting millions of microscopic magnets into a person, which could later be brought together into a single area to stop bleeding with the wave of a wand.
Another idea was to find a way to get a wounded soldier to go into a kind of hibernation, or suspended animation, until help arrived. Achieving this goal would give a soldier precious hours, or even days, to survive blood loss and avoid going into shock while awaiting evacuation or triage. Bears hibernate. Why can’t man? Could a chemical compound produce such a state?
Sleep, too, was a focus of intense research at DSO. In the Continually Assisted Performance program, scientists worked on ways to create a “24/7 soldier,” one who required little or no sleep for up to seven days. If this could be achieved, an enemy’s need for sleep would put him at an extreme disadvantage. Goldblatt’s program managers hired marine biologists studying certain sea animals to look for clues. Whales and dolphins don’t sleep; as mammals, they would drown if they did. Unlike humans, they are somehow able to control the lobes of their left and right brains so that while one lobe sleeps, the opposite lobe stays awake, allowing the animal to swim. While some DARPA scientists ruminated over the question of how humans might one day control the lobes of their own brains, other scientists experimented with drugs like Modafinil, a powerful medication used to counter sleep apnea and narcolepsy, to keep warfighters awake.