Air Force Studying Using Electricity To Keep Troops Awake

The Air Force is apparently looking at ways to keep troops awake that don’t involve caffeine:

WASHINGTON — 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.

“We found that people who receive the stimulation are performing consistently,” R. Andy McKinley, a biomedical engineer who oversees the research, said in an interview.

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.

The open question, of course, is what kind of long term effect such electric therapies could have on those who undergo them. At first glance, though, it seems like this might be a better alternative than caffeine or other stimulants that are known to have adverse impacts after long-term use.

FILED UNDER: Health, Military Affairs, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stimulate the brain with low levels of electricity

    Awww, from the headline I was hoping for something like invisible fencing collars.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    30 quatloos on the airman with the crazy goggle eyes

  3. John Peabody says:

    “That’s strange…Jim never asks for a second jolt of electricity at home…?”

  4. Electroman says:

    The “go pills” that we used back in the day weren’t stimulants, but the same caveats exist – maybe even moreso, since they’re a much newer class of drugs. This is an…interesting idea, but I’m glad that they’re not going to be trying it on me.

  5. dazedandconfused says:

    Don’t want to give those people any ideas…