Technology has come a long way, especially for the U.S. military. Drones are quickly replacing manned aircraft for many missions, body armor is lighter and stronger than ever, and helmets can be equipped with digital heads up displays to stream information directly into a soldier’s field of vision. But no matter how advanced technology becomes, there’s still one thing that simply can’t be replaced: A dog’s sense of smell. While technology exists to help detect roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices, there is still nothing available that is more reliable than a well-trained dog.
Dogs have been on U.S. battlefields since the Revolutionary War. As this article in the Wall Street Journal points out, the dogs of that war were often merely companions and mascots, but that started changing around the time of the Civil War. According to an article back in an 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly, a dog named Union Jack was seen running toward enemy fire, alerting soldiers that the Confederate artillery was incoming.
The first official use of dogs in the military came back in World War II. During that war, dogs were used primarily as messengers and scouts. These dogs saved countless thousands of lives performing that duty throughout WWII and the Vietnam War. Fast forward to today, where dogs are in heavy use in the military, but they’re doing much more than scouting. These highly trained dogs are, among other things, trained to sniff out and alert soldiers to the presence of IEDs.
Currently, around 650 trained dogs are being used by the U.S. Marines. Thanks to their heightened sense of smell and hearing, as well as their ability to see better than any human in low light conditions. Add to that the ferocity of their bite, packing nearly 400 pounds of pressure per square inch, and it’s no wonder many soldier want four legged companions on the battlefield beside them. But it’s their sense of smell that’s proving that dogs are an invaluable asset to the military.
According to the Wall Street Journal, between 1997 and 2000, DARPA spent almost $44 million on a “Dog’s Nose Program,” trying to build a sensor to help detect IEDs in combat. However, in 2010, Lt. General Michael Oats, the director of the Pentagon office in charge of reducing the threat IEDs pose to our troops, admitted that no matter the technology, nothing comes close to a canine and his handler.
The Wall Street Journal explains that in the spring of 2010, more than 20 U.S. soldiers were ambushed in Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents. While mortar shells and gunfire were going off all around them, a military dog named Dyngo alerted troops to two separated IEDs, whit the Taliban were trying to force the soldiers into. Without the dog, there is little doubt that most of those soldiers would have lost their lives.
Between 2006 and 2012, the military employed more than 1,000 dogs in their canine corps. Now, with only around 650, many are calling for the increase in these four legged soldiers to not only keep our troops safe from IEDs, but to also provide that warm, caring heart that only a dog can provide for our deployed soldiers.
By Brett Gillin