BOX 1-1

Statement of Task

The Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology) (ASAALT) has requested the NRC BAST to conduct a study of neuroscience in terms of its potential to support military applications. The study will address what neuroscience can be expected to do as well as what neuroscience advances could do if provided appropriate direction and investment. Given the fact that the field of neuroscience is very extensive and there are many other investments underway in numerous areas and sub-areas, this study will focus on those areas that have high-payoff potential for the Army where it is unlikely that others will devote substantial resources to research and exploitation in these areas for Army benefit. The study will also suggest opportunities for leveraging specific investments where appropriate for the Army. Specifically, the study will

  1. Identify and recommend novel technologies, methodologies and approaches for assessing and guiding the training of Army personnel to enhance soldier learning. The study will consider:

    • Assessing how neural pathways implicated in functional processing can be enhanced to improve the training of Soldiers in an operational context

    • Examining how sleep deprivation and high stress conditions influence training efficiency and effectiveness through degradation of specific neural pathways involved in learning and memory

    • Describing how neural pathway approaches can be applied by the Army to more objectively assess training paradigms, including virtual reality training as compared with constructed reality and operational conditions, regarding their efficacy in improving performance by Soldiers in combat environments

    • Whether traditional behavioral science as applied to Soldier training, learning and performance can benefit from developments and new knowledge being acquired in areas of neuroscience that have significant potential to impact the Soldier.

  1. Examine leading-edge methodologies and technologies developed in the government, private and academic sectors to improve cognitive and behavioral performance, particularly under high stress conditions. Consider representative non-military task environments requiring continuous operation with high vigilance and risk.

  2. Identify additional high-risk, high-payoff opportunities in the neuroscience field with strong potential for Army application. Identify critical barriers (such as legal and ethical) to research and development that could be surmounted by appropriate science and technology investments assuming that these are Army critical and unique. Suggest ways to overcome the barriers, and recommend research initiatives. Identify areas and opportunities where the Army can leverage relevant investments of others for Army application.

  3. Determine trends in research and commercial development of neuroscience technologies that are likely to be of importance to the Army in the longer term.

Study Approach

The NRC appointed the Committee on Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications to carry out the study. Special care was devoted to the composition of the committee. Some members had backgrounds in the traditional facets of neuroscience such as psychology and cognitive science and in neurology, including neuronal stimulation, neuropharmacology, imaging techniques, and human–computer interfaces (traditional ergonomics); others had expertise in newer and emerging subdisciplines and cross-disciplinary fields such as neuroimmunology, neuroeconomics, neuroergonomics, augmented reality, and computational neuroscience. Members were also selected on the basis of their experience in research and development (R&D), military operations, and medicine, and in training specialties such as memory and learning, assessment, decision making, prediction, and reading intentionality. Short biographies for the members are given in Appendix A.

Initially the committee was divided into data-gathering teams based on the Army’s own perception of neuroscience requirements. The teams determined sources of outside expertise that would be helpful to the committee’s study and reviewed recent publications on neuroscience topics, including two recent NRC studies for DOD sponsors (NRC, 2008a, 2008b). The streams of data-gathering activity were brought together midway though the committee’s deliberations when the first full-message draft was being written. A consensus was reached on pertinent findings to be contained in the report, and the committee was reconstituted into writing teams to draft the findings. The committee’s conclusions and recommendations were refined and ratified at the final meeting. All of the meetings and data-gathering activities are documented in Appendix B.

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