DARPA GOAL: FOODLESS FIGHTERS

Soldiers' moms will no doubt be horrified. But the Pentagon is looking into ways for GIs to fight for up to five days -- without eating a single meal.During a mission, soldiers in the field typically don't have the time, or the inclination, to chow down. That lack of food can affect their battlefield performance. So Darpa, the U.S. military's far-out research arm, wants scientists to figure out if soldiers can operate at top levels -- without lunch breaks."The question is: 'Are there temporary biochemical approaches we can use to squeeze the last ounce of performance out of soldiers when they're already worked to exhaustion?'" said a Darpa life sciences consultant, who asked not to be named.The agency has a couple of ideas on how this might be done: A cocktail of nutrients or so-called "nutraceuticals" could help build endurance. Lowering soldiers' core body temperature might keep them from overheating. Or, perhaps, the change could be made at the microscopic level, by turbo-charging mitochondria -- the cell's energy suppliers.The Darpa project, called "Metabolic Dominance" or "Peak Soldier Performance," is part of a wider, future-facing Pentagon research push to develop grunts who are pretty much immune to normal human demands.My Wired News article has details.THERE'S MORE: Darpa's forays into biological research have run into controversy in recent months. Last fall, the Senate tried to cut tens of millions of dollars in agency programs like the "Brain Machine Interface," which has yielded startling results in using the mind to operate robotic limbs. Much of that funding was later restored. But the fight served as a "shot across the bow," according to one agency contractor. And, as a result, Darpa has renamed most of its biology programs, to make them sound less like science fiction, and more like military necessities. For example, "Persistence in Combat," the project to keep injured G.I.s pulling the trigger on the battlefield for days, is now known as "Soldier Self-Care." "Metabolic Dominance" is slated to become "Peak Soldier Performance."AND MORE: Darpa has released the list of companies and hospitals who have received "Peak Soldier Performance" grants. They are, according to spokesperson Jan Walker: Mars Inc. / Oxford University / National Institutes of Health, Oklahoma State University, Munchi BioTherapeutics Inc., and Stanford University / Naval Health Research Center."AND MORE: The Army may have found a way to keep soldiers from over-heating, New Scientist reports: "a new, lightweight cooling vest, using ammonia and powered by hydrocarbon fuel."

Some wearable cooling systems already exist and are used by astronauts, for example. But these are based on pumping cooled water through the vest's tubes. This requires substantial power, making these systems too heavy to be carried...The new vest still employs water as a coolant, but uses a cooling system powered by burning hydrocarbon fuel to remove the heat from the water.Warm water in the vest's tubes is pumped past an array of microscopic tubes - each about the width of a human hair - containing liquid ammonia. The ammonia absorbs the water's heat and vaporises, cooling the water.
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