Indian Air Force pilots pop pills to stay awake and to sleep

NEW DELHI • Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are popping authorised pills to boost alertness and manage fatigue, the Times Of India reported on Monday.

They are using two types of drugs - the "Go" Modafinil pills, which help keep pilots awake and active for long operations, and the "No-Go" Zolpidem, a sedative to help them sleep between missions.

They were used extensively in an annual military exercise, named Livewire, conducted from Oct 31 to Nov 8 last year, said the paper.

"Hundreds of missions were flown with impeccable planning and execution" during the nationwide exercise, said a Ministry of Defence press release last November.

Quoting an unnamed senior IAF officer, the Times of India reported: "The Go/No-Go pills are being used to optimise performance only after extensive clinical trials, both in simulators and actual flying, with all necessary safeguards."

Doctors conducted field trials "to validate pharmacological strategies for sleep and alertness management for aircrew in extended operations", the officer added. Both the pills helped to boost military personnel's performance, he said.

The use of pharmaceuticals to enhance the endurance of soldiers is not new. Modafinil began as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that affects sleep and wakefulness.

The United States army has been using it since the 2003 Iraq invasion, and France routinely supplies it to its fighter pilots, online magazine Slate reported in 2013.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Indian Air Force pilots pop pills to stay awake and to sleep'. Subscribe