Kingston Conference on International Security

KCIS2017 Developing the Super Soldier Banner



Looking to the future, senior military leaders and defense officials strive to develop ‘Super Soldiers’ understood as the enhancement of critical skills, from physical and cognitive abilities, to social, cultural and ethical understanding

How can military leaders develop soldiers to ensure unity of purpose, optimal physical and cognitive performance, resilience, and ethically applied fighting spirit? How can the armed forces balance military effectiveness with a stated commitment to reflect society’s values and norms? How do we anticipate individual soldier enhancements required to maintain a competitive edge at the individual level of performance?

The 2017 edition of the Kingston Conference on International Security examined how best to advance soldier performance to maintain a competitive advantage. Achieving sustainable outcomes in operations relies on sound military strategy and weapons, but also on individual service members performing effectively across multidimensional roles. Looking to the future, senior military leaders and defence officials strive to develop ‘Super Soldiers’ understood as the enhancement of critical skills, from physical and cognitive abilities, to social, cultural and ethical understanding.



  • Challenge to the Conference, Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky, Centre for International and Defence Policy, and Colonel Derek Basigner, Canadian Army Command and Staff Collegte
  • Leadership, Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross, Commandant, NATO Defense College
  • Changing Operational Environment and HPE, Major-General Mike Rouleau, Commander CANSOFCOM
  • Human Augmentation in Video Games, Jason Dozois, Eidos Montréal

Panel 1: Overcoming Human Limitations

An introduction of the core themes of the conference by identifying performance challenges that are inherent to the military experience. Human limitations are manifest within military organizations and on the battlefield. To maintain a competitive edge, soldier skills should be developed to push existing physical, cognitive, moral, and social boundaries. The panelists discussed the following themes: overcoming physical limits and reducing the burden; Slow adaptation to operational environments; Getting rid of undesirable behavior; and Increasing resilience

Panel 2: Enhancing Physical Performance

New technology and recent scientific discoveries demonstrate that physical limits can be overcome, but that such changes can be costly and difficult to implement on a large scale. How can the armed forces take advantage of emerging technologies successfully to push the physical limits of their personnel? This panel tackles this question by examining optimization, intervention, and augmentation technologies that address current physical challenges on operations. Attention will be paid to increasing strength, improving endurance, lightening the physical load of equipment, and reducing the overall physical burden imposed on soldiers during operations.

Panel 3: Achieving Cognitive Dominance 

The military prepares service members for war during their entire career through training and education. However, operational environments are often unpredictable and require adaptive cognitive skills. How can the military improve the cognitive abilities of soldiers to optimize the factors critical for success? To guide the discussion, this panel introduces the concept of cognitive dominance, which is understood as the ability to process and analyze information for optimal decision making in operational environments.

Panel 4: Increasing Social Awareness

The challenge of reconciling individuality with group effectiveness is salient in any professional organization, but more pronounced in the military given the common formative experience. Internally, service members are part of an increasingly diverse military organization, in terms of gender, race, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Externally, soldiers are exposed to a variety of cultural experiences. Their response to those environments affects the outcome of operations. This panel started from the premise that displaying social, cultural, and gender-based awareness is crucial for the military’s internal and external activities.

Panel 5: Improving Soldier Resilience 

This panel discussed the multiple dimensions of resilience by focusing on different phases of the soldier’s career, including training, operations, and transition. As the demands placed on service members multiply, resilience should be strengthened correspondingly. To meet the demands of military service, individuals can draw on evidence-based strategies that can help manage the emotional and physical toll of military life.

Panel 6: Considering Ethical Implications 

The conference has discussed technologies and strategies that promise to enhance the physical, cognitive and social abilities of men and women in uniform. However, just because these possibilities exist, it does not mean they should be pursued. This panel looked at the ethical implications of developing super soldiers and asks how we should approach military performance enhancement.

  • Dr. Charles (Tony) Pfaff, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College 
       Ethics of Soldier Enhancement 
  • Dr. Jesse Kirkpatrick, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University 
       Super Soldiers and Virtue 
  • Dr. Steven Kornguth, Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas Austin 
       Considerations of Ethical Implications in Generating of Super Soldiers [PDF 30kb]