- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Afghanistan, a soldier’s best friend is no longer a bomb-sniffing dog, but an electronic sensor.

The Pentagon organization that oversees the effort to detect buried bombs says technological devices are proving more effective than specially trained dogs on the battlefield.

“Among the systems, we still employ the dogs, but we’re sort of de-emphasizing them because we find that other technologies are far more effective,” said Rod Korba, a spokesman for the Defense Department's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

“What it comes down to is we have other resources that we have had greater statistical success, handheld sensors and things like that.”

The remark represents a shift in strategy from less than two years ago. JIEDDO’s past director told reporters in October 2010 that the best way to find the deadly explosives is a soldier and a dog.

“Dogs are the best detectors,” Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates said, noting that a dog and dismounted soldiers can find 80 percent of roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of American troops in Afghanistan.

“That combo presents the best detection system we currently have,” Gen. Oates said, according to National Defense magazine.

At that time, congressional aides said JIEDDO had spent $19 billion - much of it on various sensors and jammers to defeat the bombs.

Friendly finders

Today, under Gen. Oates‘ successor, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, JIEDDO is de-emphasizing the role of dogs and touting air- and ground-based sensors designed to detect the enemy’s ever-changing types of buried bombs.

In some cases, the dogs become more of a soldier’s companion than an animal programmed to find a certain scent, Mr. Korba said.

“What we have discovered about the dog-scent concept is that they’re not as successful under certain circumstances as they could be,” he said. “It turns out if you treat the dog like a machine, it does a very, very effective job.

“The problem is our troops end up befriending these animals and they engage with them on different levels, and it kind of hurts their effectiveness, Mr. Korba said. “One of the things that we have discovered over the last few years is that we don’t have a good procedure right now to train our people how to use the dogs. And so sometimes they are used effectively and sometimes they are not.”

The dogs are effective in finding the IED subset known as homemade explosives (HMEs), which are made from fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate and assembled in backroom operations by Taliban fighters.

“There has been some investment in the animals,” Mr. Korba said. “We’ve taught them how to pick up the scent for HMEs. They’ve been imprinted with those kinds of sensing skills.

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