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I've got a group of humans who believe as a central tenet of their religion that humans should be as physically perfect as possible. In pursuit of this goal, they've spent a few hundred years applying an intensive program of genetic engineering and positive eugenics to their population. They've got a few hundred years worth of technological advancements over the modern day, and have a good grasp over the principles of genetic modification, though mostly of the 'modify the existing traits of an organism,' rather than the 'create a new creature in a petri dish' variety.

Their genetic engineering doesn't introduce any new paradigms compared to what we have today, but allows for much greater specificity in its manipulation. New genes can be precisely inserted into specific points of the genome, with manipulation capable of being applied to a single strand of DNA. Knowledge of genetics, of course, has also been significantly developed over the centuries. Geneticists have a good understanding of what most of the individual genes in the human genome do, though research over why a specific set of nucleotides results in a specific phenotype is ongoing.

The eugenics program is state run, and has essentially complete control over all reproduction for this group of humans. They decide who can reproduce and with who, and leave nothing to chance. Embryos are produced in lab facilities where any genetic defects can be eliminated and specific traits can be added.

Their government, which is one and the same as their religious hierarchy, has decided that 'physical perfection' means being as good at combat as possible. Their combat is similar to modern warfare, but with improved weaponry. Powered exoskeletons exist, but are expensive and only extensively used by top level commandos. There may be some hand to hand or melee combat, but as in the modern day, ranged weapons control the battlefield.

Battles in the future mostly take place either on space stations with artificial gravity or in extremely dense urban environments of megastructures. Combat in these environments mostly takes place at fairly close range, with rooms, doors, passageways, and crawl spaces constricting movement and field of view. This, of course is not a hard and fast rule, and a good soldier is expected to be able to fight anywhere, in confined or open spaces and with or without gravity. Philosophically, the society is trying to perfect the human body, so they are uninterested in creating soldiers who are built to be specialists in only one environment.

Within the scope of what is attainable in a few hundred years of genetic engineering, what general body type that would be most beneficial for a soldier? Huge and muscular? Small and lean? Small and stocky? Somewhat average?

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    $\begingroup$ Are they looking for perfection in the realm of land, air, sea, or space? Do they find stealth more perfect than a frontal assault? You've got too many variables here. Additionally it seems you're looking for a list of traits, which makes single best answer difficult to choose since people can overlap lists. Can you please be much more specific? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 9 '15 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ You should also give us some idea of what sort of technology and powers the people in charge of the eugenics have available, this is pretty much impossible to answer effectively otherwise. $\endgroup$ – Saidoro Dec 9 '15 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ The ideal weapon changes based on situation... $\endgroup$ – James Dec 9 '15 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel I've added a bit more description of what future combat looks like, and what the goals of a soldier are. Let me know if anything else looks like it needs more clarification. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Dec 9 '15 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ Captain America? $\endgroup$ – depperm Dec 10 '15 at 16:40
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My answer is going to focus mostly on heightened senses. I think psychical build would be a lean 230-250 lb build (Like an NFL running back). But with guns you just need to be quick and strong enough to move with equipment, you won't be sprinting into battlefield.

Senses alone can change everything, especially ontop of the psychological level as in @Dan B post.

Hearing
Lets first say the one of the genetic mutations would be allowing soldiers to use their vocal cords well below and above normal hearing capabilities (Tim Storms can reach notes as low as G-7 (0.189Hz)). With extremely heightened hearing, it could be a form of communication. As when elephants flap their ears and produce sounds lower than what a human can here or produce a high pitch thousands of decibels above normal hearing. With such control over voice and hearing, a fraction of a decibel could be a different command. Not mention the ability to hear conversation from distances away, possibly hear conversations through walls! It's hard to say the limitations of a genetically modified ear. Also echo location (Like some blind humans have already started to perfect) would be possible now. This would make water no longer a concern if it came down to it.

Smell This can come in handy for smelling out bombs! Dogs can do, now can these super soldiers. Also like dogs, the smell can be used to track people, follow their scent track. With smell, it would be easy to identify your fellow soldiers. Also humans release hormones when they lie, so you could smell someone lying and take proper action.

Sight Sight would be able to be adjusted, 20/20 vision is no longer perfect because eyes would now be able to adjusted to need for varying distances. The ability for eyes to follow objects would be like watching a gunshot in slowmotion. One of these soldiers could slice a bullet out of the air with sword with the abilities they have! There is possibility of being able to see better colors, seeing in the dark and seeing in different spectrums!

Touch The ability to feel vibration in the earth would be great help in combat situations. You could feel footsteps of people or vehicles driving towards them. Also touching anything in the world would be like reading brail. So every object touched would be like fingerprint in the world!

Taste Like a snake you can taste your way around! I think this will also fall under being better because smell is better.

(Sorry the list got shorter towards the end! I'll edit later, but I have to go for now! If any one wants to add comments that would sound cool for super senses I'll add them in when I pop on later tonight!)

There is also other sensors that could be added that other animals have that humans normally don't. Like detecting electricity, infrared, accelerated perception(Basically slowing down time in the soldiers eyes) maybe comes with heightened sight? Just extra thoughts.

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  • $\begingroup$ So wouldn't such a soldier be that much more vulnerable to bright lights and loud noises (flashbangs) and various types of chemical warfare affecting the mucous membranes? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 9 '15 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Nah, no worries! They'll have sense manipulation! powerlisting.wikia.com/wiki/Sense_Manipulation $\endgroup$ – Timmy Dec 10 '15 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for smell. One can imagine the applications for finding snipers / ambush parties, tracking, identification, early detecting chemicals (used for making bombs, booby traps, etc), it is also effectively a window to the past, combine a dog's sense of smell with our intelligence and you'd be able to work out a lot of the recent history of a given place. $\endgroup$ – colmde Dec 10 '15 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Timmy From which creature well they get the genes for sense manipulation? The question states "Their genetic engineering doesn't introduce any new paradigms compared to what we have today". $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 10 '15 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ This, a thousand times this. When technology abounds in the human society, the body starts mattering even less. Being smart and perceptive become the key points of war, not raw physical strength. A +1 from me! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '15 at 10:52
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If these people just wanted a society that was good at conquest, they could have engineered themselves to be smart and good at cooperating with each other, and they could have spent their research money on drone warfare. But that's not what they want. They want specifically to make all their citizens individually good at combat. That's going to lead them down a dark path.


I'm sure it's not hard to increase a human's strength genetically. It's likely not that useful, though, since ranged weapons control the battlefield.

Infrared vision might be more useful, but it might be harder to do with genetic engineering (I don't think there are any animals with infravision to use as a base for the genetic coding), and even without infravision the soldiers could just wear night vision goggles.

The soldiers will certainly have improved reflexes and accuracy.

More valuable -- and this is the dark part -- would be to change the soldiers' psychology. People aren't mentally equipped for war. Most people have strong inhibitions against killing, which we have to train for a long time to overcome, and even after doing that we get nightmares afterward. Humans also don't like risking our lives: if we live in fear for too long we get PTSD which can be crippling for the rest of our lives.

A genetically engineered soldier might have modifications to make them more willing to kill, more willing to risk their lives, and less bothered by it afterward. Then they might need other modifications: everyone on their "side" might have some pheromone they emit that identifies them as an ally, and the soldier isn't willing to kill people after they've smelled that pheromone on them. The soldier might also get some sort of modification to make them more willing to obey orders -- perhaps that's linked to a different pheromone, which is emitted by the leader caste?

(This also leads to interesting roleplaying options: if your players research the soldiers' genetics, they can discover the pheromone system and use it against them.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Making a society more prone to kill is also making that society more prone to fall. Sentient beings need to be able to socialize in a safe way. That's why those inhibitions to kill exists in first place. Those modifications are really, really dangerous and prone to go haywire. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '15 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira I agree with you -- the psychological modifications I listed are really dangerous, and frankly they're a terrible idea for any society that wants to remain civilized! However OP's question was about which modifications a totalitarian religious dictator would use to make humans individually better at combat. This is how I think they would do that. $\endgroup$ – Dan B Feb 18 '16 at 23:05
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"what general body type that would be most beneficial for a soldier? Huge and muscular? Small and lean? Small and stocky? Somewhat average?"

The average Navy Seal is about 5' 10" and about 175 lbs. You do not need the bulk of a running back (5' 11", 215 lbs) to make a really good warrior.

The main changes would be mental. Situational awareness is huge in any battle, and armed with the same weapons, i'd place my bet on the warrior with better situational awareness any day. That means a huge capacity for four dimensional thinking. Along with this, linear thinking would be heightened. This builds into the situational awareness, but it also adds to their capacity for strategy. Basically, they would be bred to be geniuses.

The other major genetic change would be in healing capacity. They would be genetically engineered for the fastest recovery time. This does not just help when they get wounded. It also means that a hard run through a forest takes less of a toll and the solider requires less rest before they are back on their feet and at 100%, ready to fight.

Another major genetic change would be in nerve conduction speed, and signal processing - i.e. reflexes. This race would be wired like a tight spring, but with the mental control to manage reactions.

Just shooting from the hip, so hopefully this adds a little to the other answers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can't make them too smart though! They need to be brainwashed or they'll gang up and overthrow the (government?) $\endgroup$ – Timmy Dec 10 '15 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Timmy - I would not let a Navy Seal hear me saying that, if I were you :-) $\endgroup$ – user11864 Dec 10 '15 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Agapwlesu - I just noticed what your link is pointing to! That's hilarious. $\endgroup$ – Timmy Dec 10 '15 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Timmy - I had a good chuckle at it, and was wondering if anyone was going to get the humor of it. $\endgroup$ – user11864 Dec 10 '15 at 15:34
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“Amateurs study tactics, professionals study strategy, masters study logistics“

A skirmish is won by having the better tactics. A battle is won by having better strategy. But a war is won by having better logistics. So the ideal soldier would be one which has the least logistics requirements.

  • Resistance to hypothermia.
  • Resistance to high temperatures.
  • Not requiring much sleep and if they do need sleep, allow them to sleep without requiring much comfort.
  • Able to consume water and food which is rotten or contaminated by microorganisms. Maybe even being able to gain nutrition from commonly occuring plants (like grass or tree leaves).
  • Not requiring much medical care when they get wounded (fast healing, high resistance to wound infection, high pain tolerance)
  • Able to walk long distances without tiring or getting blisters (can be trained, but a natural deposition would still help).
  • And no psychological consequences when having to endure any of that for an extended period of time.

Many abilities you would consider useful in actual combat (super strength, super sight, super aim, super hearing, super toughness...) can be achieved with high-tech equipment and require no biological modifications.

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A few things that have been missed in other answers. If this military situation is the standard through-out the duration of the genetic engineering, and there is a practical pressure to actually achieve more efficient human combatants than this is what would happen. (If either of the two previous statements does not hold true this might not happen)

Concentration of fire power. Most conflicts “ take place either on space stations with artificial gravity or in extremely dense urban environments of megastructures”. Space is a premium. Small shorter soldiers can pack more fire power into smaller areas. This would lead towards a general trend downwards in size. In addition if you have to transport your troops into space there is a huge cost to this. Smaller lighter combatants make this more efficient. Especially over long space flights since they require fewer supplies. Tall soldiers would also be useful to fire over their smaller counterparts, but they would be narrow and lanky. Again fitting more into a small area.

Both of these traits can make the soldiers smaller targets in many situations as well. There is also a cost savings in protective equipment. Small combatants require less materials to build armor and uniforms for. A small person inside of equal sized power armor as a large person leaves extra room for extra equipment. More munitions, or larger fuel reserves. Patience and the ability to sit motionless for hours. With the super abilities others have mentioned an ambush will have to be perfectly silent and still.

Adrenal control and tolerance. Adrenaline does wonders to physical performance.

Memory and intellect. The urban chaos of the mega cities means any prolonged combat becomes a maze puzzle that whomever solves better wins.

Metabolic control. Being able to slip in and out of a coma/hibernation at will means supplies in a space ship or space suit can last longer. Smaller ships are harder to identify. What if a few dozens space suits where sent adrift 3 months out to be the first wave attack?

The end result is an ideal army trending towards small wafe like or child like midgets/dwarfs. If you keep the negative health affects of dwarfisim you even have soldiers who will die in their prime. Knowing they will die soon helping take away their fear of death in combat. Also saving on medical expenses since you don’t have any long lived veterans’ medical expenses to support.

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  • $\begingroup$ That dwarfish is an interesting idea. It would limit their carrying capacity I imagine though. But an assisting exo-suit might fix that I guess. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 20 '17 at 9:27
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Most of what has been mentioned lis very valid, although I suppose there could be quibbles over what is more important; stamina or enhanced senses.

I suspect that the real payoff would be to enhance kinaesthetic senses and have the ability to control many of the physiological functions of the body as a way of overcoming combat stress and staying focused. Elite soldiers might not resemble running backs at all but rather svelte swimmers with the flexibility of gymnasts or dancers. Having high levels of control over your body also means the ability to stay still for long periods of time, not have to stop for a washroom break at an inopportune moment, conserve internal stores of water and energy etc.

Maybe we should be thinking in terms of something like a gunned up Shaolin warrior monk.

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I would suggest that things would progress towards many of the attributes featured by the Adeptus Astartes or Space Marines of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. These soldiers are physically larger than standard humans, although that is mostly to inspire fear/awe on the battle field, provide greater space for their extra organs and allow them to operate heavier weapons on the field.

In addition to size (which may not be a huge advantage) they have:

  • Increased Strength
  • Hightended Senses
  • Faster Reflexes
  • The ability to withstand poisons and toxins
  • Redundant organ systems
  • Improved healing (no point in second heart if arteries don't seal off around damaged one, etc)
  • Solid or near sould chest cavity to better protect vital organs
  • Thicker epidermal layers to help act as living armour
  • Fanatical Loyalty (helpful for a religious government)
  • Limited Self Replication Ability (cannot have them go rogue and breed some rebels or be trained by an enemy)

There is a page detailing the creation of a Space Marine that lists the organs and implants that are added. With sufficient genetic fiddling it should be possible to get many of these to form within a creature anyway. The main interest is the list of attributes you end up (see above) rather than how they are achieved in a particular fantasy universe.

The bit about breeding limitations is going to cause a question over whether you have a warrior cast that are effectively mules or if everyone in society is going to be similar. If it is everyone then heightened intelligence might be beneficial to help with tactics and production of arms, etc.

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All of the above. In addition to the general improvements applied to everybody:

  • snipers would be engineered for precise hand-eye coordination and mathematical intelligence
  • infantry grunts would be engineered for the speed, strength, and stamina to carry heavier weapons and armor
  • commanders would be engineered for holistic tactical/strategic intelligence
  • submariners would be engineered to survive on less food, water, and oxygen
  • pilots would be engineered not to get cramps from sitting in one position for extended periods
  • ...
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I would suggest looking at the modifications done to Colonial Union soldiers in John Scalzi's Old Man's War (a superb book, by the way). In it we see interesting examples of many points brought up in other answers. For example:

(mild SPOILERS)

  • the soldiers' skin is green so as to absorb chlorophyll for energy

  • cat eyes

  • spliced wolf DNA for loyalty purposes

  • seriously increased senses/reflexes/strength/neurological performance

  • improved stamina, lung capacity, and resistance to the elements (even, if I recall, a limited ability to survive in the vacuum of space for a short time), and they require significantly less sleep than a normal human does

  • a healthy sex drive + sterility

  • a powerful computer/PDA woven into the soldier's brain and networked with other soldiers that improves the clarity of the battlefield, and provides instant, non-verbal communication among soldiers

  • oxygen-carrying nanobots in place of blood that can clot immediately and also burst into flames if an enemy is covered in a soldier's "blood"

  • denser/more durable muscular-skeletal system, so that they can carry far more weight for far longer without suffering injury (the majority of health problems among infantrymen today is the fact that they have to carry about 100 pounds during a patrol, for example, which often result in spinal injuries, stress fractures, and so on)

  • because recruits are all over 75 years old at enlistment, they come equipped with more life experience and mental stability that helps them deal with PTSD and the other effects of warfare

  • soldiers' bodies are able to swiftly regrow limbs, organs, etc., when sent to a medical facility (and can be given crude replacement limbs quickly via battlefield medicine, if I recall correctly)

  • resistance to poison, viruses, parasites, etc.

Now, I am, of course, not advising you to just lift wholesale ideas from Scalzi. But, as we see with the chlorophyll skin, wolf-spliced DNA, etc., the sky is the limit for your group of humans, and nature can provide some awesome and creative suggestions for them.

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