Pentagon Spends $19 Billion To Discover That The Best Bomb-Detector Is A Dog

Photo: Piotr Grzywocz (CC)

Photo: Piotr Grzywocz (CC)

Having been unable to eat in the presence of some canines throughout my life (folks, you really should have trained your dogs, you know who you are…) this one comes as no surprise. Spencer Ackerman writes on the always interesting WIRED’s Danger Room:

Drones, metal detectors, chemical sniffers, and super spycams — forget ‘em. The leader of the Pentagon’s multibillion military task force to stop improvised bombs says there’s nothing in the U.S. arsenal for bomb detection more powerful than a dog’s nose.

Despite a slew of bomb-finding gagdets, the American military only locates about 50 percent of the improvised explosives planted in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that number jumps to 80 percent when U.S. and Afghan patrols take dogs along for a sniff-heavy walk. “Dogs are the best detectors,” Lieutenant General Michael Oates, the commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, told a conference yesterday, National Defense reports. That’s not the greatest admission for a well-funded organization — nearly $19 billion since 2004, according to a congressional committee — tasked with solving one of the military’s wickedest problems.

Improvised explosive devices continue to rise in Afghanistan. There were 1,062 successful bomb attacks in the first eight months of 2010 there, compared to 820 during the previous period in 2009. Making matters worse in Afghanistan is the fact that most homemade bombs there are powered by fertilizers and chemicals, rendering metal detectors useless.

Picking up the chemical signature of those bombs should be relatively straightforward — just a matter of picking up the stray molecules that float away from unstable explosive material. In practice, it hasn’t been so easy. In 1997, a young program manager at Darpa launched the “Dog’s Nose” progam, to develop a bomb-sniffer as good as a canine’s. Today, that program manager, Regina Dugan, runs the entire agency. And Darpa is still has a project on the books to “leverag[e] the components of the canine olfactory system to create a breakthrough detection system.”

Read More on WIRED’s Danger Room

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  • 5by5

    $19 billion on that, and barely $6bn to “reform” our entire school system. Priorities out of whack, much?

  • Anonymous

    $19 billion on that, and barely $6bn to “reform” our entire school system. Priorities out of whack, much?

  • Anonymous

    $19 billion on that, and barely $6bn to “reform” our entire school system. Priorities out of whack, much?