PLA eyes 'Night Eagle' to make army of night owls
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Minnie Chan
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has opened up a new front in the war against sleep.
It has developed a drug that can keep its soldiers awake and active for as long as 72 hours, state television reported yesterday. But its scientists didn't disclose its ingredients.
The anti-sleep drug - called Night Eagle - was unveiled as one of 600 scientific achievements in an exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences. The China Central Television report did not give further details about the new drug, such as any hint of its composition, how it works or its possible side effects.
Instead, quoting academy researcher Wang Lin, it said the drug was developed specifically for the military to help soldiers cope with sleep deprivation during missions.
'Our troops will have to stay awake for a long time while being able to maintain cognitive abilities when they are deployed in search and rescue operations after earthquakes, floods and other disasters and some special military missions,' Wang said.
Analysts said the Night Eagle drug appeared similar to sleep-suppressants widely used by armed forces of other countries.
'Although I have no information about the newly invented drug, it is not at all surprising to see efforts to control sleep and develop anti-sleep technology because of their apparent practical uses in combat situations,' said Professor Ni Lexiong , a Shanghai-based military expert.
'Whether our troops can deprive themselves of sleep hours or even days longer than their opponents could make a major difference in combat,' Ni said.
Ni believed the PLA would not reveal the drug's composition or associated experimental data, but said it probably worked the same way as other stimulants developed in the West. Any possible side effects of the drug were also unknown.
One popular military stimulant in the West is modafinil, which was originally developed to treat narcolepsy but is now used by US, French, British and Indian armed forces as an alternative to amphetamines, as well as by students to fight fatigue.
Modafinil has been a popular lifestyle drug for people who want to chemically turn off sleep with fewer side effects.
Experts also said anti-sleep drugs were becoming more important hi-tech aids and the US military reportedly developed a formulation that kept soldiers awake for seven straight days and nights in the early 2000s.