– Executive Summary –

The time to act is now. Government leaders cannot ignore the changing nature, complexities, and grave consequences of non-kinetic warfare. Cognitive and technical modes continue to outpace defense systems and warfare strategies that were once successful. Fifth-generation warfare (5GW) and emerging technologies give more power to remote and virtual networks, surveillance tactics, biological warfare, laser weapons, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and more, leaving physical violence as a secondary or, in some cases, an obsolete defense strategy.[1] Russia, China, and Iran target the United States with “hackers, spies, special operations forces” online and “in the shadows” over traditional soldiers and battlefields.[2] Their actions require little physical strength and agility to manipulate and overthrow U.S. cyber, economic, and technological interests behind desks and computer screens.[3] Non-kinetic warfare gives birth to once inconceivable threats, calling for the reassessment of talents and skillsets from military personnel.

Despite the conflict urgency and shift in demands, the Department of Defense has not conducted a large-scale examination of recruitment standards for non-kinetic warfare. Even as non-kinetic settings require more cognitive skills, such as critical thinking, decision-making, and reasoning, the military prohibits most disabled Americans from entering active service due to the physical and medical standards outlined in Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 6130.03, Volume 2.[4] This restriction contradicts the department’s current practice of retaining active-duty or limited-service-status soldiers disabled in the field who meet satisfactory performance standards for their original or other military positions.[5] Advancements in technology and science provide more reliable and adaptable medical equipment that disabled soldiers can use without posing a risk to the mission or forces; regardless, the same resources are available for Americans disabled prior to service. Therefore, a transtibial amputee or paraplegic soldier might now, however, be of benefit to the virtual battlefield.


As the warfare landscape fluctuates and challenges force personnel, this thesis sought to answer the following inquiry: What are the feasibility requirements, national security implications, and benefits to the DoD of expanding active military service to disabled Americans? The research methods used primarily included evaluations, qualitative, and quantitative analysis on relevant information to the thesis question. The research was outlined through a literature review, government documents, law, politics, historical examples, academic studies, and scholarship opinions. The research for this thesis followed Bardach and Patashnik’s evaluation process by developing concepts with the provided information, estimating outcomes, confronting trade-offs, and providing recommendations.[6]

From a programmatic and systematic view, the DoD can leverage disabled Americans in military service. The Revolutionary War employed disabled soldiers, as did the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War.[7] In World War I and II, the Army established the Limited Service program—men with physical conditions and varying disabilities could meet manpower demands and serve in essential military functions.[8] By 1946, the Army’s Chief Classification and Personnel Actions Branch, as described by Colonel George R. Evans, projected the possibility of enlisting a man with only “one eye, one leg, or even no legs,” if he met all job requirements aside from physical standards.[9] In addition to outlining that such service is feasible, these historical examples show the gains of this practice by fulfilling recruitment and retention goals and executing missions in significant conflicts.

Research also indicates that disabled American athletes have the required skillsets and mental agility to excel in non-kinetic positions. Numerous studies support that disabled athletes are mentally capable of withstanding unimaginable mental and physical stress and challenging environments.[10] They are also more resilient and courageous than non-disabled athletes, as these traits are essential to overcoming societal and institutional barriers regarding disability.[11] Disabled people may achieve similar outcomes for the military. As the military strives to surpass rivals and adversaries, the force could benefit from disabled athlete characteristics to improve resilience, adaptability, and cognitive capabilities required in non-kinetic settings.

Disabled Americans could bring advanced technological capabilities to the military and improve mission success. Indeed, companies have experienced increased profits and cost savings when disabled employees are in the workforce.[12] Additionally, disabled employees have higher retention rates than non-disabled counterparts.[13] Employing disabled Americans could fulfill military recruitment and retention goals for non-kinetic and noncombatant positions. The military seeks high-aptitude recruits with the very skills Silicon Valley—Google and Microsoft, for example—and the Israeli Defense Force employ with disabled individuals to create computer scripts, programs, and algorithms.[14] Disabled Americans can accomplish and improve the military’s reliance—and success—with semi-autonomous technologies, computing, and artificial intelligence.[15] In all of these ways, disabled individuals could help the military recruit, retain, and advance talent for non-kinetic missions.

The risks associated with military expansion are strategic, logistic, and process-related, needing careful consideration. Disabled Americans may increase military costs, but this is not certain until academics and the Congressional Budget Office conduct further research. The public and international adversaries may also perceive the force as weak for admitting disabled Americans. Yet, such debates are not new and repeat arguments of previous generations about women and African Americans. From higher costs to biological incompetence, African Americans and women were once considered a hindrance to missions and excluded from service—until the military made appropriate accommodations. Such concerns are valid but should not stop military progress and integration efforts with disabled Americans. Expanding military service to disabled Americans is feasible and beneficial and creates minimal national security implications under appropriate guidance, strategy, and leadership.


1.         Expand the Current Model

The DoD should expand service to disabled Americans who meet current military requirements and undergo the medical waiver process on a case-by-case basis. This avenue is beneficial for elite and Paralympic amputee athletes who are most likely to surpass physical fitness standards and match the skills of active-duty amputee members disabled from the field.

2.         Initiate a Policy Shift

The DoD should refine and establish new entry standards to match the demands of non-kinetic warfare. First, it should establish a standard intellect requirement like the physical fitness test for all service personnel. The test should be administered twice per calendar year, and consecutive failures in meeting this baseline should result in repercussions similar to those for failing to meet physical fitness requirements, such as denial of promotions or, eventually, separation from the armed forces. Such a test would significantly maintain and improve the mental quality of the force.

Second, the DoD should waive the physical fitness tests for recruits receiving a score of 90 percent or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Such a shift mirrors recruitment efforts of Silicon Valley and the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 9900 toward persons with autism and intellectual disabilities for non-kinetic and technical settings. The DoD would then match the recruits to 5GW positions.

Third, the DoD should implement a resilience and adaptability test for baseline entry to non-kinetic roles. It would place recruits in non-kinetic scenarios through virtual reality headsets and devices. The military could test a range of physically disabled and non-disabled candidates for the qualities—determination, resilience, mental toughness, and problem-solving—needed to excel in virtual and remote warfare. Candidates in the highest percentile of the resilience and cognitive tests would waive the physical fitness standard and perform non-kinetic functions. These avenues expand the talent pool to disabled and non-disabled recruits who best meet the emerging 5GW modes of warfare.

3.         Create a Corps for Non-Kinetic Missions

The DoD should create a Corps for Non-Kinetic Missions of disabled and non-disabled servicemembers. Non-kinetic settings will continue to rise, and such a corps would select the best and most-equipped talent—disabled and non-disabled alike—to meet the demands and advance military capabilities for non-physical spaces.

4.         Establish a Disabled-American Pilot Program

The DoD should consider a pilot program for disabled American service upon entry. Government officials and policymakers must carefully consider this avenue, as a pilot program may create a separate-but-equal component with disabled Americans instead of whole-system integration.

5.         Garner Military and Congressional Support

Congress and military officials should consider and implement variations of the aforementioned recommendations. Medical waivers, specific policy shifts, and the creation of a pilot program can be accomplished at the department level, but congressional support is encouraged.

a.         Create a Stakeholder Committee

The DoD should establish a stakeholder committee to collect and synthesize relevant information and data on expanding service to disabled Americans to implement these changes. The committee would consist of the following partners: the DoD, military experts and stakeholders, disability rights leaders, and advocacy groups. The committee would provide best practices and an implementation plan to the secretary of defense and the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

b.         Schedule a Congressional Hearing

Recommendations for a corps and additional funding will need congressional support and approval. The U.S. House or Senate Armed Services Committee should consider the stakeholder committee findings and schedule a hearing to further examine and evaluate the benefits and barriers for disabled Americans entering military service. Depending on congressional leadership and political climate, the hearing results could spark new legislation or amendments to relevant defense bills.


The following areas require further research on disabled Americans and their entry into military service:

  • A cost–benefit analysis of disability entry, service coverage, and defense spending. The research could include budget estimates from the Department of Veteran Affairs, the National Defense Authorization Acts, and the Social Security Administration. The Congressional Budget Office could provide additional information.
  • The cultural barriers and solutions for disability integration into the military system.
  • The difference between civil and military service in 5GW settings aside from conducting lethal force.
  • The reassessment of deployment terms and defense policies for remote and virtual warfare.

Disabled Americans will continuously meet the call of service in times of distress and conflict pressures. Given warfare’s fluid demands, the past performance of disabled soldiers in kinetic environments, and the current talents of disabled individuals, it is advantageous for the military to consider and integrate disabled Americans into lethal, non‑kinetic service.


[1] Waseem Qureshi, “Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions,” San Diego International Law Journal 21, no. 1 (2019): 210.

[2] Seth Jones, Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran, and the Rise of Irregular Warfare (New York: Norton, 2021), 4.

[3] Jones, 6.

[4] Department of Defense, Medical Standards for Military Service: Retention, vol. 2, DoD Instruction 6130.03 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2020), 3, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/‌Documents/DD/issuances/dodi/613003v2p.pdf?ver=2020-09-04-120013-383.

[5] Nathan D. Ainspan and Walter E. Penk, Returning Wars’ Wounded, Injured, and Ill (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2008), 89.

[6] Eugene Bardach and Eric M. Patashnik, A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving, 6th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2020).

[7] Bernard Rostker, “The American System of Providing for the Wounded Evolves,” in Providing for the Casualties of War: The American Experience through World War II (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2013), 64, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/j.ctt2tt90p.12.

[8] Sanders Marble, Scraping the Barrel: The Military Use of Sub-Standard Manpower (Bronx: Fordham University Press, 2012), ProQuest.

[9] George R. Evans, “Not So Disabled,” Army Information Digest 1, no. 8 (December 1946): 44.

[10] Karen M. Whitfield and Kyle John Wilby, “Developing Grit, Motivation, and Resilience: To Give Up on Giving In,” Pharmacy: Journal of Pharmacy Education and Practice 9, no. 2 (2021): 109, https://doi.org/10.3390/pharmacy9020109; Jeffrey Martin and Laurie Malone, “Elite Wheelchair Rugby Players’ Mental Skills and Sport Engagement,” Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology 7 (2013): 253–63, https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.7.4.253.

[11] Iwona Sikorska and Krzysztof Gerc, “Athletes with Disability in the Light of Positive Psychology,” Baltic Journal of Health and Physical Activity 10, no. 1 (2018), https://doi.org/10.29359/BJHPA.10.1.07.

[12] Sally Lindsay et al., “A Systematic Review of the Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities,” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 28, no. 4 (December 2018): 648, http://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-018-9756-z.

[13] Lindsay et al., 648.

[14] Stacy Rader, Matthew D. Nelson, and Marvin Gorgas Jr., “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the U.S. Army: Recruiting and Readiness Implications” (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2018), 20, https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/61251; Ben Sales, “Deciphering Satellite Photos, Soldiers with Autism Take on Key Roles in IDF,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency (blog), December 8, 2015, https://www.jta.org/2015/12/08/israel/deciphering-satellite-photos-soldiers-with-autism-take-on-key-roles-in-idf.

[15] Barbara A. Bicksler and Lisa G. Nolan, Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force: The Need for Sustained Investment in Recruiting Resources—An Update (Arlington, VA: Strategic Analysis, Inc., 2009), 2, https://prhome.defense.gov/Portals/52/Documents/RFM/MPP/Accession%20Policy/docs/Bicksler%20Recruiting%20Paper%202009.pdf.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top