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    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-41 – COL Dan Herlihy – Cognitive Performance Enhancement for Multi-domain Operations

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-41 – COL Dan Herlihy – Cognitive Performance Enhancement for Multi-domain Operations

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    Audio by Kristen Taylor 

    U.S. Army War College Public Affairs

    Despite its desire to achieve cognitive dominance for multi-domain operations, the Army has yet to develop fully and adopt the concept of cognitive performance enhancement. This article provides a comprehensive assessment of the Army’s efforts in this area, explores increasing demands on soldier cognition, and compares the Army’s current approach to its adversaries. Its conclusions will help US military and policy practitioners establish the culture and behaviors that promote cognitive dominance and success across multiple domains.

    Read the article:

    Episode transcript: Cognitive Performance Enhancement for Multi-domain Operations
    Stephanie Crider (Host)

    You’re listening to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production focused on national security affairs.

    The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

    Decisive Point welcomes Colonel Dan Herlihy, author of “Cognitive Performance Enhancement for Multi -domain Operations,” which was published in the winter 2022–23 issue of Parameters. Herlihy commands the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg, NC, and has a background in airborne and Special Operations engineering. He holds master’s degrees in civil engineering and strategic studies from Missouri S&T and the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies, respectively.

    Welcome to Decisive Point, Dan.

    Colonel Dan Herlihy

    Hi Stephanie, thanks for having me.


    Cognitive performance enhancement for multi-domain operations—where does the army currently stand on this?


    The army is somewhat quiet on cognitive performance, particularly cognitive performance enhancement, and does not address the topic directly in its warfighting doctrine. So, the new FM, 3-0, operations, our Army’s capstone doctrine, discusses the pursuit of decision dominance and briefly mentions cognitive effects, while describing defeat mechanisms later on in the text. But 3-0 does not touch on the cognitive domain in a deep or meaningful way.

    The Army research and medical community is much more in tune with the importance of cognitive performance enhancement. In fact, Army Futures Command, TRADOC, and the Army Resilience Directorate have a number of programs and initiatives aimed at exploring this concept. Many of these stakeholders played a part in the development and publication of FM 7-22, the Army’s Health and Holistic Fitness Manual. And that does a much better job describing the cognitive domain and introducing the topic of cognitive enhancement. Even so, 7-22 describes cognitive skill as one of five factors associated with mental readiness and features a far less prominent role in the writing than physical readiness does.


    You say in your article that there are increasing demands on soldier cognition. Please explain.


    As we’ve seen warfare evolve and now bringing in the space domain and cyber domain, there are clearly more cognitive demands for our soldiers than there were in the past. Warfare has always been cognitively demanding, but as we add nearly limitless streams of information and data through the cyber and space domains—all the way to the soldier and leader level—this becomes more and more prominent. On top of that, we see the speed of combat increasing, so our leaders are expected to make decisions more quickly and without hesitation to exploit brief windows of convergence against our adversaries. With that, we also see more complex war fighting systems, as our technology continues to grow and become more capable. All that combined just puts more of a cognitive load on our soldiers.


    How does the US’ approach compare to its adversaries?


    I would say the US takes a less direct approach than our adversaries do. Particularly China and Russia. As we look at China, China has had several leaders in the PLA clearly described the domain of consciousness as one of the key operating spaces in the future. The Chinese, like a civil-military fusion approach towards exploiting the cognitive domain and trying to enhance the cognitive performance of their soldiers. The Chinese are not bound by ethical constraints that we in the West impose on ourselves. And what that means is the Chinese are much more willing to experiment with things such as gene editing to edit human embryos in ways that could enhance cognitive performance.

    Similarly, the Russians see the information domain and the cognitive domain as key in the future of warfare. And as we’ve seen in Ukraine, Russian disinformation is ubiquitous on the battlefield, and Russian leaders attempt to saturate the information space to confuse and slow the decision-making of their adversaries, which they do so with some success, as we’ve seen.


    What are your recommendations for the US Army?


    My recommendations are that we must continue to pursue revolutionary advances in neuroscience and technology that are ongoing, and we must continue to do that in an ethical manner and not be tempted to veer from that to try to keep pace with our adversaries. But at the same time, we must also capitalize on practical and near-term opportunities to improve individual soldier and cognitive performance. And that could be done through a number of ways that are outlined in the writing—indirect approaches that affect our cognition through things such as talent management, dietary intervention, sleep modification, exercise, pharmacology, and other resilience, training. Or direct approaches that more immediately target the structural and functional mechanisms underlying our perception, cognition, and emotion. So, we have to take an integrated approach to that across the .mil pf, and ultimately drive towards a culture of cognitive performance enhancement across the Army.

    That means we have to leave behind some myths about multitasking, some myths about operating on little to no sleep, and really take a look at what the science says and make some simple modifications to the way we do business that can help us achieve higher potential in the cognitive domain.


    Give us your final thoughts on the topic before we go.


    I would just close with, you know, while there’s a lot of exciting research and technology emerging in the cognitive domain, we all have an opportunity to educate ourselves on the basics of brain function, how we think, how we decide, and in doing so capitalize on some quick wins that are already available for us with modest investment. And we can set conditions for even greater advances in the future. And the great part about that is we can do so while keeping our values intact and not stepping into any ethical gray space—and continue to serve the way that we have—and we’ll continue to do so in the future.


    I’m curious. You’re an engineer. What inspired you to write about this topic?


    That’s a great question. I think for me, I’ve just always been fascinated with the way our mind works, and I had some exposure in the special operations community with the early days of what’s now the health and holistic fitness program, and in that learned a little bit about cognitive performance. And to see the huge amount of untapped potential that’s there, as in the army, it’s easy to focus on the physical domain, and we can see results from exercise and nutrition in that domain with our very eyes. And we can see it because it’s easy to measure on PT tests and other assessments. But the cognitive domain often goes unmeasured or unnoticed. I just think there’s a lot of potential there, and I was excited to have the opportunity to do some research on that area and learn that we have a lot of really bright individuals in the army and across DoD that are taking a hard look at this for us. But in the end, it’s us as leaders that are going to have to take the next step to really change the culture of our army to embrace cognitive performance optimization in the same way we’ve embraced physical performance optimization.


    Well said. Thanks for taking that one on. And also, just thank you for sharing your time and your insights today on this topic.

    Learn more about cognitive performance enhancement for multi-domain operations at Look for volume 52, issue 4.

    If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, you can find us on any major podcast platform.

    Author Information: Colonel Dan Herlihy commands the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and has a background in airborne and special operations engineering. Herlihy holds masters’ degrees in civil engineering and strategic studies from Missouri S&T and the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), respectively.



    Date Taken: 12.09.2022
    Date Posted: 06.20.2023 15:08
    Category: Newscasts
    Audio ID: 74955
    Filename: 2306/DOD_109718218.mp3
    Length: 00:08:10
    Artist US Army War College Press
    Album Decisive Point – Season 3
    Track # 41
    Year 2022
    Genre Podcast
    Location: US

    Web Views: 42
    Downloads: 2
    High-Res. Downloads: 2