As you may have heard, the Navy SEAL raid that took out Osama bin Laden included a four-legged soldier — aptly described as "the nation's most courageous dog" by the NY Times.
Such a revelation has sparked tremendous interest in the use of war dogs, while also shedding light on the technology these canines use to assist SEAL teams on missions. Dogs for this line of work (the military uses Labrador retrievers, Belgian malinois, and German shepherds) require a significant investment (an estimated $50,000), so it's in the best interest of the owners to equip their canine comrades with the best in safety and high-tech surveillance.
Below is a short list of the most common tools used to turn man's best friend into a modern peacekeeping/assault soldier.
According to ABC, military working dogs are enrolled in a 60-90 day training program in which they learn how to detect explosives and drugs. Some can even sniff out the enemy from up to 2 miles away. Dogs are also taught how to defend their handlers in the event of an attack.
The most important thing to note on this topic is that the Navy SEALs and other enforcement agencies are not just ripping out a dog's teeth for the sake of creating a terrifying-looking war machine. There was a general misconception yesterday on the Web that titanium teeth were preferable to the real thing, but as Wired points out, they're more of a backup solution when injury strikes.
War dogs, police dogs, etc. are all trained to bite. Many times, those bites can lead to broken teeth. Replacing injured teeth with titanium (at a cost between $600-$2,000/tooth) is one way to help a dog continue its service.
In terms of visuals, however, many agree that the false fangs do enhance the "oh my God" fear factor.
Tactical body armor
Yes, even dogs get body armor — since nobody wants "Chomper" getting stabbed or shot in the line of duty. The adjustable, lightweight suits protect the vital organs and come in an array of models depending on the dog's line of duty (ie; the "Assault Vest" defeats a combination of ballistic and ice pick threats.) And yes, there are plenty of colors to choose from.
Last year, the Navy SEALs purchased four waterproof "Canine Tactical Assault Suits" from Canadian firm K9 Storm for a reported $86,000. According to CNN, the company makes $5 million a year selling custom armor for dogs in the "U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Special Forces; police departments in 13 countries; and security firms worldwide."
In conjunction with the tactical armor, military dogs also commonly now carry infrared/night vision wireless cameras to relay visuals from as far as 1,000 yards away. Some sites have even reported that an "intruder communication system" is included — enabling the ability to see through concrete walls. According to the NY Times, speakers are also included in the tactical suit so that handlers can relay commands remotely as well.
There are currently some 600 military dogs serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a number that's expected to increase substantially. “The capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine,” Gen. David Petraeus, current U.S. commander in charge of Afghanistan said in 2008. “By all measures of performance, their yield outperforms any asset we have in our industry.”
Check out ABC News' special report on war dogs below.
Also on MNN: Meet the dog that helped capture bin Laden