TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command wants to create super-soldiers through pushing the limits of human performance, and is looking to nutritional supplements and even performance enhancing drugs as options.

America's elite operators already have access to the kinds of fitness and performance resources available to a pro football player with dietitians, athletic trainers and physical therapists embedded with the units. But U.S. Special Operations Command is looking to go even further, pushing operators to increase pain tolerance, injury prevention and recovery, and physical performance in austere environments. SOCOM is looking to private industry and academia for ideas to get them there.

"If there are … different ways of training, different ways of acquiring performance that are non-material, that's preferred but in a lot of cases we've exhausted those areas," said Ben Chitty, senior project manager for biomedical, human performance and canine portfolios in the Science and Technology office at USSOCOM. 

Chitty said some of the areas they are looking to push big leaps forward in human performance are in places where humans aren't necessarily evolved to be at maximum capacity: at high altitude or underwater for extended periods of time without access to food or water, for example. One of the puzzles is how to have an operator who has been underwater for hours without sustenance still perform once he gets to the objective, Chitty explained.

SOCOM is looking at nutritional supplements, such as the kind you find at GNC, but also at performance enhancing drugs, Chitty said.

"For performance enhancing drugs, we'll have to look at the makeup and safety in consultation with our surgeon and the medical folks before making any decisions on it," he said.

While pushing supplements and drugs on operators to push performance might seem like a risky proposition — reminiscent of Rocky's scientifically optimized Soviet opponent Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV" – Chitty said the focus would be on safety first and foremost.

"We're not cutting any corners," Chitty said. "We want to make sure its safe first and then we want to look at the effectiveness of it.

"If there are things in the nutraceutical realm that are available, those are good in the sense that its not a new drug that's being developed. If the best thing for our folks is a pharmaceutical then we're interested in understanding what's the space that industry and academia can provide for us."

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.