The Navy is exploring multiple cognitive enhancement technologies to improve mental and physical performance. “We plan on using that in mission enhancement,” Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski said. “The performance piece is really critical to the life of our operators.”
Captain Jason Salata, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command told Military.com, “Earlier this year, Naval Special Warfare units, working with DIUx, began a specific cognitive enhancement project with a small group of volunteers to test and evaluate achieving higher performance through the use of neurostimulation technology.” DIUx is the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental) initiative.
Since last summer, multiple SEAL units including SEAL Team Six have been testing the Halo headset. The Navy is not releasing the number of SEALs testing the neuro-stim headsets nor the exact results, except to indicate that so far, the outcomes are positive.
“Early results show promising signs,” Salata said. “Based on this, we are encouraged to continue and are moving forward with our studies.”
Halo Neuroscience CTO and co-founder Brett Wingeier told Military.com the headset doesn’t provide cognitive enhancement, but neuro-priming. When someone wears the headset for a 20-minute session prior to training, the brain goes into a state of hyper-elasticity, helping the user learn better and more efficiently.
Used prior to physical training, the headset helps athletes develop explosive power for leaping or starting hard. No training effect happens without focused hard work on the part of an athlete or, in this case, a military operator, but the performance improvement from the hard work is enhanced.
“Whatever you’re training on as far as a movement-based skill,” Wingeier said. “If you do deep practice, hard repetition, this accelerates the benefit of that.” For special operators, the same system could improve shooting performance, he continued.
Referring to the SEALs testing the Halo headset, Wingeier said, “They’re training at this amazingly high level, and the amount they can train is actually limited by things like physical recovery. They want to be able to maintain those incredible physical standards as efficiently as possible. That helps them avoid injury. If I were to sum it up, it’s kind of all about just training a little bit smarter.”
Wingeier said lab tests of neuro-priming with sports teams have proven safe, but others express concerns about long-term side effects.
Andrew Herr, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a security think tank, says side effect concerns can be viewed differently with warriors than with non-military uses.
“The concept’s that if you’re not healing, then no side effects are worth it or acceptable,” Herr said. “[But] when you’re sending people into combat situations where their lives are on the line, the ethics are flipped … I think actually we are thinking about ethics all backward in this field because the military has a unique requirement. And it’s even more powerful in the special operations field.”