Anyone who's been "downrange" in America's overproduced theater of war knows that its performers run on nicotine and caffeine: coffee for some, fizzy-sugary energy bombs for others. (Rip-Its, anyone?) But you know what's cheaper and easier for Uncle Sam to import to the battlefield? Arcs and sparks!

Via the Boston Globe's Bryan Bender:

For some modern soldiers, caffeine is just not enough to stay vigilant, especially for the growing ranks of digital warriors who must spend hours monitoring spy drone footage and other streams of surveillance data.

So the Pentagon is exploring a novel way to extend troops' attention spans and sharpen their reaction times: stimulate the brain with low levels of electricity.

It sounds like science fiction, but commanders in search of more effective tools than the ubiquitous cups of coffee and energy drinks are testing medical treatments designed to treat such brain disorders as depression to determine whether they can also improve the attentiveness of sleep-deprived but otherwise healthy troops.

So the military is doing what any rational organization would do: zapping the brains of "several dozen volunteers" at a research lab on Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The bio-Mengele biomedical engineer in charge of the project says: "We found that people who receive the stimulation are performing consistently," which is a glowing endorsement of EST if ever there was one. (Next, the researchers will discover that shocks make the military's eternal pizza taste better.)

Bender mentions that, yeah, of course there used to be a stigma to shock therapy, because hey, who hasn't seen Cuckoo's Nest?

But things are oh so different now, because it's applied so precisely and people don't bite off their tongues or break bones anymore, so what's the problem? ("There have been a few studies that if you use it in the right place it can help mathematical calculations when people are sleep-deprived," a Harvard researcher says before cautioning, "it is not very precise yet.")

This is all coming up in 2014 not because the trigger-pulling front-liners of American empire need a pick-me-up, but because the military has grown more reliant on service members in comfy chairs who perform dull, repetitive data-monitoring tasks, and caffeine apparently loses its effectiveness on those subjects. So the Pentagon has decided to play with turning men into machines, quite literally. Donna Haraway would be proud:

Project officials want to study the effects further — especially to determine whether it is safe to stimulate the brain regularly — but said there have been few side effects, such as some skin irritation from the electrodes, as well as mild but brief headaches. They expressed confidence that the work could ultimately result in a pair of easy-to-apply electrodes becoming standard issue for some military personnel.

This shit is awesome! How often can we use it? How about every day? "[T]here is almost no data on that," one researcher tells Bender, but the Pentagon's lab is "ramping up a study to do that very thing." Nurse Ratched, call your office, please. You've been promoted!

[Photo credit: AP]