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Nanotechnology for soldiers

With the advent of nanotechnology in military warfare, it is no more a dream or a just science fiction where aliens invade Earth and return without getting injured despite heavy exchange of ground fire from best equipped soldiers having ultra decimated guns at their hands.  

The aliens could escape because they had nano-particles inside the body of their soldiers which had given them extra speed, extra mobility and extra lethality to deal with fire from the ground and their body can be cured and repaired immediately if there is any damage using nanotechnology.    

Because the nano-technology inside their body makes them hard to deal with the situation but it is ultra soft to flow around with the movement of blood, this makes them immortal as the damaged nano-particles can be replaced with rapid detection.  

Military scientists frequently claim that nanotechnology will transform the future of warfare, integrating soldiers and machines into the digital battlefield at a molecular level and making combat programmable at every scale as war can be turned into a video game.

At the same time, consumer video games increasingly feature simulations of ‘nanowar’ based on the research agendas of real scientific institutions.

The convergence of military nanotechnology with video game culture can focus on the recent game Crysis, which follows the adventures of a soldier equipped with a nanotechnology battle suit (based loosely on US army prototypes).

Crysis players typically adapt to the official rhetoric of military nanotechnology which presents nanotechnology as a form of masculine empowerment.

At the same time, these players often comprehend the functioning of military nanotechnology as occasioning a state of crisis: a crisis of gender and human embodiment.

Drawing upon queer theory (the field of critical analysis that studies the construction and deconstruction of normative assumptions about gender and sexuality), even as video game players adjust to the concepts of nanowar, their engagement with the digital battlefield as an everyday play space simultaneously opens the discourse of military nanotechnology up to other politics, other genders, and other futures.
Digital makeover

The digital battlefield is an immense network of computers, sensors and communications systems linking soldiers and machines into common channels of data, where every vehicle weapon, and combat trooper is rendered a component in the fully integrated circuits of command and control. Under the logic of network centric warfare-a defining feature of militarism in the wake of post modernity-the digital battlefield emerges as a shared awareness of combat space, a hypermedia environment generated by the flows of information.

This can stream from various mobile units, intelligence sources, and global positioning satellites, analyzed and computed in real time through massively-parallel processes, generating the zone of warfare as a virtual reality to be navigated and coordinated on a computer monitor or a vehicular heads-up display.

The completely digital theatre of war appears just off screen but closer than ever, an emergent development of the military-entertainment complex.

The promise of programmable war (where everything from the operation of unmanned ground and aerial vehicles to the bio-monitoring of soldier physiologies is algorithmically synchronized) exemplifies the condition of virtuality operating everywhere today, where material bodies become discretely atomized nodes in computational phase-space.

For instance, Jean-Louis Dutch DeGay, an equipment specialist at the US army’ s Natick Soldier Center, describes the digital battlefield as depending on two specific engineering objectives.

One is a new suite of vehicles and the network that those vehicles will operate in, and the other is the next-generation soldier who will be a node to plug into that network and interact with those vehicles.
Integrating soldiers

Look at the soldier at the next-generation platform. The Star analogy is the this modular soldier of the future, plugged into virtual combat zones born from the dreams of science fiction, currently evolves in military programs all over the world, including Germany’s IdZ (Infanterist der Zukunft, or ‘Infantryman of the Future’), India’s F-INSAS (Futuristic Infantry Soldier as a System) and the United Kingdom’s FIST (Future Integrated Soldier Technology).

Similarly, France’s FELIN (Fantassin a Equipement et Liaisons Integrees, or ‘Foot Soldiers with Integrated Equipment and Links’) and BOA (Bulle Operationnelle Aeroterrestre, the network-enabled ‘Aeroterrestrial Operational Bubble’ combat system), Singapore’s ACMS (Advanced Combat Man System), Norway’s NORMANS (Norwegian Modular Network Soldier), Australia’s Land 125, the United States’ Future Combat Systems and Future Warrior.

The topological production of decentralized control networks wherein, as the critical theorists Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker have written, the scale is fractal in nature, meaning that it is locally similar at all resolutions, both macroscopic and microscopic.

The digital battlefield, involving the total integration of bits of matter with bits of code, necessarily extends from the macro scale down to the nano scale.

According to the US Army Research Office, the final realization of this vision for future warfare will depend upon innovative military science that looks into creation and utilization of materials, devices, and systems through the control of matter on the nanometer-length scale and into the ability to engineer matter at the level of atoms, molecules, and supra-molecular structures.

This research will contribute to increasing command and control, lethality, mobility, surviavability, and sustainability of systems in the field.

It will ultimately enable a strategically mobile of handling the full spectrum of future operations from stability and support operations through major theater war.

Nanotechnology would seem to provide revolutionary solutions for integrating soldiers and information systems in the battle spaces of the future.

As US Navy Lieutenant Shannon L Callahan explains, if the ultimate goal of this projected revolution in military affairs involves integrating the infantryman’s capabilities into the digitized battlefield without adversely affecting his performance, thereby multiplying his lethality through an ability to communicate what he sees and knows up to higher headquarters, then nanotechnology and its characteristic tiny devices could be the revolution’s enabling technology.

To be sure, this revolutionary notion informed the US Army’s decision in 2001 to create the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT.

The individual soldier of the future will require systems revolutionary in their capabilities. Recent advances in the field of nanoscience suggest that it may be possible to provide the soldier with radically new capabilities in full-spectrum threat protection without incurring significant weight or volume penalties.

Such soldier systems will only be realized by directing additional resources to the Army’s Science and Technology Program in the emerging field of nanoscience.

For that reason, the Army’s Science and Technology Program in the emerging and assigns arena is being extended to create a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) entitled the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. When the Army Research Office (ARO) first disseminated its Broad Agency Announcement about the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, the solicitation for research proposals appeared on the ARO webpage attached to a cartoon of the digital battlefield.

Combat zone

Futuristic soldiers-what the army has dubbed Future Force Warriors-charge across a hyperbolically digitized combat zone.

The computational grid or matrix on which the Future Force Warriors wage battle materializes directly from a field of green-tinted binary code, Is and 0s from the antique past of monochrome monitors now morphing seamlessly into the scene high-tech warfare: a nod to The Matrix films, perhaps, where a virtual world indistinguishable from reality emerges from the electronic translations of computer language.

This digital cartoon advertising the US Army’s vision for soldier nanotechnologies makes one thing perfectly clear: the anticipated digital battlefield of the future would seem to be at last realized in the collision of cyberspace with nano-space.

This image, visually enacting the military investment in nanotechnology as enabling the digital battlefield, redeploys and vivifies the widespread discourse of ‘digital matter’ circulating in the fields of nano-science.

‘Digital matter’ is the prevalent notion among advocates of radical nanotechnology that, as the nanoscientist J Storrs Hall has put it, “Nanotechnology will make matter into software”. For military science, the implication becomes: ‘Nanotechnology will make war into a video game.’

The notion that nanotechnology will empower military science to transform the field of combat, the constitution of weaponry, and even soldiers’ bodies with the ease of toying with pixels on a screen, appears frequently in the research agendas and media artifacts of nanoculture.

Shortly after establishing its operations at MIT, the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) produced a series of publicity videos entitled ‘Soldier of the Future’ that presented the potential of nano to reprogram the shape of warfare.

The videos depict this potential by remediating the visual conventions of action-adventure video games. For example, the first ISN video, created in 2001 by North Bridge Productions (a division DigiNovations) in collaboration with the video game company Boston Animation, splices interviews of real ISN scientists together with fictive animations of military nanotechnology in action.

The animated sequences draw upon the same 3D graphics architecture used in other Boston Animation video games like Darkened Skye (2003). These animated vignettes focus on the lightweight, skintight exoskeleton that the ISN aims to engineer: a nanotechnology battle suit, or nanosuit.

According the vignettes, the nanosuit will harden instantaneously to stop sniper bullets, rapidly synthesize antitoxins in response to chemical weapon explosions, and administer first aid to wounded soldiers by applying little electric currents to systems that are unimaginably small and light.

Rendering biometric data visible on the battlefield network, the nanosuit will enable soldiers and commanders alike to observe its molecular operations on the body.

In one of the vignettes, the nanosuit worn by a stricken soldier injects nanoparticles into his bloodstream to combat deadly enemy toxins. The soldier’s companion, watching this microscopic process take place via the monitor in his own nanosuit, also reacts.

Such histrionics of military nanotechnology, turning the chemical interior of the soldier body into yet another setting for the theatre of war, would appear no mere fantasy.

For the Soldier of the Future video announces that the nano-enabled digital battlefield is almost here: Nanotechnology research is taking this out of the realm of dreams and, within in a couple of decades, into the field.

A later ISN video depicts the future of soldier nanotechnology through an introductory first-person action sequence whose visual field is isomorphic with the heads-up displays (HUDs) featured in first-person shooter video games like Doom (1993).

The narrative here concerns a small squad of nanosuited soldiers infiltrating an enemy bioweapons bunker.

During this search-and-destroy mission, an airborne bioagent (dubbed ‘bad stuff’ by the squad leader) infects Jones, one of the soldiers.

But before Jones is even aware of it, the nano systems that constantly monitor his blood chemistry immediately went into action to contain the contamination.

In this video, the digital battlefield-the networked informatic space produced by the various recording devices and nanosensors in each of the soldiers’ uniforms-is available to the troops as well as to the military scientists coordinating the operation through their command terminals.

The first-person shooter perspective is identical for the soldiers and the military scientists. When Jones’ bio-contamination occurs, the distributed HUD indicates that a man has been exposed and therefore must be sent out, dropped from the mission-identical to the convention in video games where HUD inventories ‘remaining lives or ‘extra men.’

Subsequently, the video offers a molecular view of ‘what happens inside the suit,’ showing the subdermal functions of the onboard med-surveillance systems, nano-syringes constantly puncture the soldier’s skin.

Then it sucks samples of his blood through ‘micro-blenders,’ filtering his pureed RNA molecules through lab-on-a-chip biometric monitors, which then beam the resulting data back into the digital network. This intervened in time to save the soldier’s life, so that he can go on fighting on the digital battlefield.

Video game traditions here shape the way that military nanoscience presents itself to the public, as striving for a digital future where wars are rebootable and soldiers’ lives are replayable, thanks to the struggles of intrepid researchers.

As the first Soldier of the Future video tells us, ISN scientists are currently “mounting an assault on that challenge of improving soldier survivability with tools that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

With the vision of a very near future where very real wars will be indistinguishable from video games precisely because nanotechnology gives digital command and control even at the atomic scale, the ability to program warfare right down to the molecular level.

Given that now rigorously imagine military nanotechnologies of even the most radical and far-out varieties, given that one can make digital animations right now of what, according to the ISN, was literally ‘unimaginable just a few years ago,’ that very possibility for the future already virtualizes the present.

With this virtuality and navigate its potentials through interactions with militarized media that do not simply represent, or speculate, but rather simulate the actualization of digital matter. In other words, video game animations animate the technology literally, and in every way.

Even before it gets here, radical nanotechnology is already being shaped at a social level through video games of military science.

Military nanotechnology

For at the same time as various military institutions project the nanotechnology battlefield in the form of a video game, popular culture now consumes certain commercial video games as projections of the nanotechnology battlefield.

By virtue of this constitutive trans-coding or feedback between popular games and military science, the discourse of military nanotechnology emerges through a collective process that Henry Jenkins has called ‘convergence culture’.

This is a mode of cultural production where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer intersect in unpredictable ways.

In converging at the site of the video game, military scientists and video game players together engage in unpredictable contests over the shape of the things to come in the nanotechnology era.

For even as institutionalized Soldier of the Future programs advance particular technocratic visions of totalizing, programmable warfare, popular engagements with military nanotechnology frequently open onto virtual futures of an altogether different order.

A growing number of consumer video games today animate the technical concepts and political discourses of military nanotechnology, making the digital battlefield less a dreamscape of future wars than an everyday play space, easily accessible and endlessly reloadable.

Games such as Deus Ex (2000) and Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), PlanetSide (2003), the Red Faction games (2001, 2002), Nano Breaker (2005), Project: Snowblind (2005), the Metal Gear Solid series (198-2008), Heroes of War: Nanowarrior (2009), and several dozen others turn speculative nanoscience and military engineering diagrams into recreational experiences.

Like the ISN publicity videos, these games contribute to the incursion of futuristic military technologies into everyday life by simulating the conditions for advanced nano-warfare as both present and playable.

In doing so, such games variously participate in the militarization of popular culture, making the state of perpetual armed conflict into a form of consumable pleasure and often naturalizing militaristic values of imperialism, xenophobia, misogyny, and aggressive masculinity in the process, but this is only part of the story.

Indeed, for many players of these games, such quotidian engagements with the digital battlefield may simultaneously produce perceptions and sensations of nano-warfare radically divergent from those of the official military programs on with these games are based.

After all, as Michel de Certeau has famously argued, everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others, tactically appropriating, transforming, or recreating cultural materials in ways that might profoundly subvert their ‘proper’ meanings, affects, and visions of the future.

So even as nano-war video games normalize the digital battlefield as clear, present, and inevitable, they also enact its recreational potential.

Consider the blockbuster game Crysis, released in 2007 for the Windows operating system by the German game company Crytek.

Crysis enables the player to operate as an elite US Special Forces soldier, equipped with a nanosuit that mimics prototypes from the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and the US Future Warrior program.

According to Bernd Diemer, the senior designer on the Crysis project: Taking inspiration from the Future Warrior 2020 program, we developed the Nano Fibre Suit that can enhance strength, speed and armour levels.

The player can max the speed to dash across an open field, change to the strength setting and silently punch out a sentry.

In many ways, Crysis is nothing less than a playable version of the scenarios depicted in the ISN Soldier of the Future videos.

The game takes place on a tropical island in the South China Sea, where the North Korean military has commandeered a mysterious alien artifact discovered by US archeologists.

Quickly, the island becomes a stage for the performance of globalization as militarization. The plot unfolds through open-ended ‘sandbox’ game play.

The player can proceed through the various military objectives with a large degree of freedom, selecting missions according to individual preference rather than any prescribed order, thanks to the logistics of network- centric warfare that transform the island into a fully rendered digital battlefield.

Nano suit

But whether battling North Korean soldiers in the opening engagements of the game, or surviving the onslaught of alien creatures in the later chapters of the story, the narrative, such as it is, takes a back seat to the real focus of the game: namely, the playability of the nanosuit itself, and its relation to the figure of the male soldier inside (James Dunn, identified in the game under the codename of ‘Nomad’).

The nanosuit has several functions that the player can activate at will. Often, whenever one thinks of nano-functions, an ominous male voice booms into our headset, mechanically announcing the outcome of our selection: Maximum armor, Maximum strength, Maximum speed and so forth.

This voice would seem to be the programmed rhetoric of military science as such, built into the operating system of the suit that we inhabit in first-person perspective.

The voice along with the incessant text material that pops onto our HUD, reminds us, comforts us, about our invulnerability-our virtual impenetrability-in the embrace of the nanosuit boasting maximum armor, maximum strength, maximum hardness.

The game’s insistence on the hardness of the nanosuited soldier channels the standard masculinist rhetoric now well entrenched in the discourse of military nano.

This rhetoric of maximum hardness would seem to be some kind of conceptual protection against an otherwise emasculating notion of the soldier body being throughly penetrated at all times by invasive nano enhancements.

Indeed, various long-term visions for military nanotechnology, involving nanowires in soldier’s brains, nano-devices circulating in their bloodstreams, nanoactuators embedded in their muscles, and so forth, are common in DARPA (US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) programs and human enhancement discourse-not to mention most military science fiction.

Such visions are so completely predicated on the opening of the body, the rendering of the soldier body as a porous membrane where materials pass back and forth with abandon, a site of endless penetrations.

That it is as if the hardness and hardening processes of nano must be emphasized, rhetorically if nothing else, in order to psychologically protect the ‘soldier male mentality’ from collapsing under fear of disintegration, the anxiety of being opened up by tiny probing technologies.

For even while insisting on maximum hardness and maximum impenetrability, the Crysis multimedia experience offers several third-person perspectives on the operations of the nanosuit: non-playable scenes from the game trailer that given an illicit vantage point on the high-tech war machine Normad has become.

This shows us the extent to which nano enhancement, even in rendering the soldier body maximally hard, simultaneously renders it maximally fluidic.

Such images of nanoparticles and nanodevices dropping into the bloodstream, embedded into muscle fibres, infiltrating the epidermis (similar to the ISN images of nano-needles puncturing the skin inside the protective suit) expose a conundrum in the imaginary of military nanotechnology.

This is a discursive contradiction whereby the soldier is made nano-technologically hard only by virtue of being nano-technologically soft.

The soldier becomes penetrated, invaded, conscripted-not a closed off, armored body, but an open, wet, and humble body encased in a machinic system whose operations are entirely invisible.

Invisible, at least, save for these privileged digital animations that games like Crysis and the ISN videos give us, situating us initially in the first-person perspective and then, ecstatically, in the third-person perspective directly at the nanoscale.
So that one can watch the body’s molecular opening and perceive its nanoscale fluidity, even while being bombarded by the official rhetoric of hardness.

By viewing or interacting with such renditions of the battlefield of digital matter, one is suspended between these two perspectives, unable to resolve them because they are both insisted on, graphically and semiotically.