Tag Archives: supersoldiers

Would supersoldiers actually be useful in a modern army, or would technology make them obsolete before they could even happen?

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It depends. A supersoldier isn’t a specific power set, it is simply a character who’s been augmented in some way. This could be biological, could be cybernetic, could even be mystical. Those enhancements could remain useful on the battlefield, even as technology evolves.

If your world has supersoldier programs, that will be part of technological advancement. There is an uncomfortable element to it where soldiers would actually become obsolete in favor of newer, more enhanced, recruits. In that world, augmentation would be seen as a necessary technological advantage. You’d still be chasing the next iteration of supersoldiers in order to keep up with your enemies.

So, biological upgrades are, probably, going to be a one and done. You probably can’t keep tinkering with the same organism indefinitely. That said, things like improved vision, increased reflexes, even just modified clotting factors could be useful in combat. In some ways, this is the variation most likely to age into obsolesce, and in this case it really matters what’s expected from the soldier.

With biologically enhanced supersoldiers all you’re really looking at are a new baseline for your soldiers. I’m also lumping in chemical enhancements here. So, if your supersoldiers were created using some kind of chemical cocktail, this is what we’re talking about.

If you’re expecting a biologically enhanced supersoldier to walk out in the open, soaking incoming fire, that’s not going to happen. If you’re asking for people who are enhanced beyond normal human limits, but are still, functionally human, then, yeah that works. Even facing advancing technology. Some things you can do with hardware, but if you have a soldier who doesn’t need NVGs, that’s one less thing that can go wrong in the field.

Cybernetic augmentations are bit more complicated, because depending on the implant architecture, you could simply swap out obsolete components. If you replaced a soldier’s eyes 20 years ago, and there are now better versions available, you can just pull them out and plug fresh ones in. In more extreme cases, like if their old eyes are using an interface that fell out of favor, you might have to replace a larger swath of components, but the basic idea is still solid. So, a cybernetic supersoldier probably wouldn’t be rendered obsolete if they had access to regular upgrades.

I suppose if you want to go the full Ghost in the Shell route, a human consciousness in a synthetic body would probably fall under this category as well.

There’s also some edge cases here, if you’ve got a cyborg where their implants are proprietary, you might not be able to upgrade them at all. This is trending into some really messed up discussions on human obsolescence, but the option is there.

There’s also a consideration here where you might be looking at supersoldiers who are enhanced by non-invasive technology. Technically anyone with contact lenses is a cyborg, so you could have supersoldiers wearing incredibly futuristic armor and qualify as “cyborgs,” even if it’s not what you’re normally thinking of.

Either way, cybernetic supersoldiers are more of a question whether you can stay ahead of the curve on tech.

Mystically empowered supersoldiers could be pretty much anything. Your soldiers are mystically enhanced somehow, and the results are going to directly follow the rules for magic in your world. More than the examples above, this stuff really can transition over into superheroes. Can this keep up with advancing technology? It depends on your magic. If the enhancements grow stronger over time, or manifest new abilities, then absolutely. If its fixed, then, maybe not.

In this case, more than the others, the major question becomes whether their foes can find to subvert the supersoldiers’ advantages. This isn’t about technology advancing, it’s about probing your enemy’s weaknesses, and finding a way to exploit them. If your characters are mystically enhanced and your foes realize that, they might have magical tricks up their sleeve. This is also true for the other varieties as well. For example: A cybernetically enhanced supersoldier might be shut down by their enemies using EMP weapons, or even exploiting software weaknesses.

Also worth knowing that developing supersoldiers is (probably) illegal under Article 35 of the Geneva Conventions. This is more of a real world consideration, so it’s something you may wish to disregard in your work, but it could also spur some story threads. The specific legal analysis is contested, so if you want to research that in more depth, feel free.

Finally a major consideration with supersoldiers is, what do you do with them when you’re done? Especially in more invasive modifications, like the cybernetic options above, it’s awkward. Eventually your soldiers will rotate out of the military and back to civilian life. Taking that out of the equation is incredibly messed up, and if you don’t, it’s a serious worldbuilding consideration.

Can supersoldiers be viable? It depends on your technology and what you want from them. Will they find themselves outdated by the newest iteration? It’s quite possible.

-Starke

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I’ve started writing a sci-fi novel where a female soldier, after being critically injured, is “volunteered” to become a host for a colony of nano machines as part of a super-soldier project and AWOL’s afterward. How do you think a woman who wakes up with abilities comparable to Captain America and a “utility fog” would fight hand to hand? Is there anything you think the nanites should or shouldn’t be able to do, i.e. disintegration?

Disintegration is a fantastic suggestion. It ensures that the weapons platform that you just spent billions of dollars building can’t be reverse engineered or interrogated if it’s captured. Also, it makes a pretty solid failsafe, should it go rogue and turn against you… wait, you meant disintegrating other things, didn’t you? Well, this is awkward.

Let’s just get the combat training out of the way, your character will be trained in whatever they knew from the military. That can be whichever hand to hand set is most appropriate. Just remember, their combat training will have them using firearms, and this isn’t something they’ll just ignore.

So, here’s the thing. You, as the military, spend fifty billion dollars building a better soldier. Obviously, that kind of cost is not going to fly on a mass rollout, and the modern military is all about mass production, but, for the moment, your prototype cost a lot of money to research and build. You do not want to lose that money. You don’t want another faction simply scooping your prototype up off the street, hauling them off to the dark side of the moon, and taking them apart to figure out how they work. So, you’re going to need failsafe systems.

One of the easiest ones is GPS tracking, along with a communications package. This means, wherever your prototype goes, you can always call it up, and know exactly where it is and what it’s doing. For something like this to actually work it cannot be something the character can just switch off whenever they want. They’ve got a radio in their skeletal structure now, and like it or not, they can’t do anything about that.

More aggressive failsafes will probably be prudent. No matter how good your psychological screenings are, there’s always a chance you’re giving someone limitless power, and they’re just going to take off and start murdering their way through the government. That means you (still, as the military) need to be able to, at least, shut down their enhancements, if not outright kill them remotely.

This brings us back to the disintegration option. If your prototype is captured by some organization that wants to reverse engineer your technology, you need a way to stop them remotely. Also, if you’re doing clandestine things with your prototype, it’s always nice to have an “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re evidence melted? That’s preposterous!” out, if they’re captured.

I say “melt,” rather than “evaporated”, because, for the most part, setting nanites to break everything in their general vicinity, is believed to result in a grayish sludge, though they could be set to incinerate anything around them, so it’s all up to your preferences.

Okay, now, what else can they do? Nanotech is fairly fluid, at least in science fiction, so there isn’t really a shortage of options. The Crysis and Deus Ex (except Human Revolution) games both feature nanotech augmented player characters, so those might be worth looking at. Crysis 2 in particular does spend some time poking at the plausible applications for the technology, so if you have the time and aptitude for first person shooters, it’s probably worth looking at. Also, it will get you thinking about (relatively) realistic firefights with superpowers.

What superpowers your character gets are ultimately up to you. I’d actually recommend against areal dispersion, though. Nanites are just tiny robots, so they need a medium to traverse, that can be a human body, water, solid surfaces. But, throwing them in the air is more weapon-of-mass-destruction territory than a superpower.

Some fun possible superpowers are cloaking, limited shapeshifting (can’t change size, or gender), rapid healing, improved resistance to damage (armor or improved pain resistance), heightened reflexes, improved strength. You know, the usual super power set. Your character might be able to interact with nearby electronics if they infest them with their own nanocolony first. Though, that would mean they’re depleting their own reserve of nanites.

On the supervillian side of things, nanites could be used to control individuals, Star Trek’s Borg Collective and the 2009 GI Joe film both have examples of that. This isn’t a good option for a military with loyal disciplined soldiers, but, for a supervillian who needs stormtroopers for their volcanic fortress, it’s a possibility.

I mentioned psychological screening earlier, here’s the thing, unless the entire point of the experiment is only for rapid healing, then picking a critically injured soldier is probably a poor choice. The reason is fairly simple. You need to run extensive psychological screening for any kind of prototype technology, before integrating it. So you don’t stick it in someone that will immediately pull a Robocop 2. Any traumatic injury runs the risk of psychologically destabilizing the patient. I don’t mean they go insane, but things like depression, anger, obsessive tendencies, hell, even PTSD are all things you DO NOT WANT, when you’re trying to test out some new high end cybernetics. If these do emerge, you’re going to be left asking if it was the result of the injury or if it was the result of the implants.

The major exception is if her nanotech infusion was only to speed her healing. Obviously, this is wandering off the entire super soldier concept, but, then the only thing she’d gain would be the ability to heal from egregious injuries (possibly including death) quickly. In a situation like that, you might not need anything beyond the infusion. Including failsafes. To be honest, if that’s your character’s only superpower, that’s probably enough, provided they’re creative. Also, I find it stresses credibility a little that the military would pick someone for this treatment, if there was the slightest risk of them just taking off after treatment.

-Starke