Genetic engineering has advanced to the point where it can successfully enhance the human body through the use of gene patches. These patches take the form of retroviruses which will slowly affect the body over the course of 2-3 years. Different patches would be designed differently depending on the ability that was meant to be enhanced. Increased speed, endurance, strength, eyesight, smell, among other things would be available. As every individual is unique, each patch would be tailored specifically to the person, but retain a general "format". These abilities would not be inheritable, and they would be very expensive for the individual. Civilians would have access to them, but some would be restricted to the military or law enforcement depending on how advanced, useful, or dangerous they were. Patches reserved for the military would be covered or subsidized by the government to make their soldiers more effective in combat. If men and women had equal access to these enhancements, would it lead to an equal representation of the sexes in active combat roles? Would they be able to serve alongside each other on the front lines more often? In the special military branches like the navy seals?
No, because physical ability isn't why women don't serve combat roles.
The reason why there aren't equal numbers of men and women in combat roles isn't because women are too weak. Women don't serve combat roles because there's a social norm that men are soldiers and women aren't. Modifying the genes of female soldiers won't change that norm.
Most combat roles don't require exceptional physical ability. The IDF, for example, has stated that women can serve in 88% to 92% of all military roles. Women can aptly serve as snipers, basic infantry, pilots, or vehicle drivers without issue. Only a few special forces roles, in which the vast majority of men are also physically unsuitable, lie beyond the physical abilities of women.
While genetic enhancement might increase the number of women (and men) that are capable of performing the few jobs in combat that require exceptional physical abilities, increasing the number of female soldiers is primarily a matter of changing social norms so that female soldiers are regarded as normative by society.
I don't think this will work for two reasons.
- Unless the enhancements only work on women, any perceived differences will remain after enhancement.
- The problem is more social/cultural than it is physical. Modern warfare doesn't rely on upper body strength as much as when people were swinging swords around. In fact, women might have an advantage in fighter aircraft. So, the current lack of women is largely culturally based.
You will need either a cultural solution or a physical solution that gives women an "impossible to ignore" advantage in combat.
Some genetic characteristics (like "growth") stop at a certain age, so "patching" a woman's growth genes wouldn't do any good without Human Growth Hormone supplements. Naturally, there are negative side effects to adults taking HGH:
- Nerve, muscle, or joint pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Numbness and tingling of the skin
- High cholesterol levels
Even then... female bones are skinnier than male bones, which means that they'll break down sooner than men's when marching and marching and marching over hill and dale while carrying 100 lb (45kg) packs in addition to weapons, ammunition, your injured buddy's gear, extra ammunition, etc, etc.
Bottom line: the human body is com-pli-cated, and a few DNA patches here and there won't turn normal, healthy women into men.
This is more of a social problem than a biological, the first thing you need to answer is what would attract more women to the military?
Simply enhancing their physical attributes wouldn't be enough and could even lead to even greater social stigma towards those that do enlist. Just give a look at fashion magazines and beauty contest that you will see that in our society muscular and tall women aren't considered much attractive.
There is also the technology of power armor and similar tech, the army has been developing these things for a while now and they would make any regular much stronger and durable than any regular genetic alteration could.
The answer here is that men and women are different. I would think that different patches would upgrade them differently and that you would target the things that they are ALREADY good at to very high levels.
So women don't start with a higher upper body strength, and your augment just barely gets them what? to the level of a regular dude or a little more, because they start at a lower level? That seems like a waste. Why not start with someone who already has a baseline of higher upper body strength?
Then again, that might not be how it works.
In which case, you'll want to look at Captain America. Notice who Dr. Abraham Erskine chooses for his program. Steve Rogers. Not the gung-ho solider. I would think that the psyche tests would be extensive and that they would be very careful about who they choose, if the enhancements are as dramatic as that.
If men and women had equal access to these enhancements, would it lead to an equal representation of the sexes in active combat roles?
But this is kind of a chicken-or-the-egg question. Because you say that military has more access to these. And military already skews male. By definition, at the start, more males will have access to the augments. More women will have to want to sign up for the military than do today.
Consider as well that most things, medically, are tested for men. That's the baseline. The only way it's going to be equal is if they accidently find out that ladies get more augmented in some way than dudes do--not for all the patches but for one of them--something like super-reflexes at a higher level or something. If they each have their own advantages that tend along gender lines, I can see it.
Otherwise, no, I don't see it equalizing.
It depends on how these enhancements works. Say, for example, that you have an enhancement that increase a person's raw strength. And let's suppose that the average man has a strength of 100 on whatever scale and the average woman is a 60. If it increases strength by 10%, then when you're done men are now at 110 and women are at 66. Both are increased, but men have the same proportional advantage they had before. On the other hand, if the enhancement increases strength to 110 regardless of what the person's original strength was, then men no longer have an advantage. If for whatever reason it increases a man's strength by 10 but doubles a woman's strength, then men are now at 110 and women at 120 and women have the advantage.
As others have noted, a fundamental question is why there are not more women soldiers. Partly, no doubt, it is because men are physically stronger and even in this modern high-tech age, combat requires physical strength. But it's also at least partly because women tend to be much more averse to violence: there are more men who want to be soldiers than there are women who want to be soldiers. And women have more reason to fear being captured by the enemy. A captured woman can be raped. If an enemy captured men and forced them to have sex with beautiful women guards, lots of men would think that was a reward, not a punishment. Etc. We could debate whether such differences are genetic or cultural, but it doesn't much matter: they exist. (An argument on the genetic side: you would be hard pressed to find many examples of cultures where the women go to war while the men stay home. Examples outside of fiction, that is. If it was purely a cultural construct, one would expect that a large number of cultures would be the opposite of Western civilization.)