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Marine’s Best Friend Shows Explosive-Detecting Capabilities

January 19, 2012

Specialty canines were on a mission to sniff out trouble and display their explosive-detecting abilities Jan. 18 as part of an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-hosted “Top Dog Demo 2012.”

“These dogs have kept Marines alive by helping them move through the battle space,” said Lisa Albuquerque, program manager for ONR´s Naval Expeditionary Dog Program, part of ONR´s Expeditionary Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department. “Marines can focus on their mission because they´ve got these four-legged sensors helping to keep them safe.”

ONR and its partners have been working to improve the canines in three primary areas: nutrition and physiology; stress and cognition; and olfaction, or sense of smell. The Top Dog technical demonstration at Southern Pines, N.C., was an opportunity for senior Navy leadership overseeing the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Detector Dog (IDD) 2.0 Project to see the canines in action.

IDD 2.0 is funded by the Joint IED Defeat Organization, with ONR and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory teaming to execute the work for the Marine Corps. The technical demo included project researchers from North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University and the Naval Research Laboratory.

Currently, there are 280 IDDs deployed at forward operating bases in Afghanistan, supporting counter-IED missions.

Throughout the workday, the dogs are unleashed and on the go. They move in a circular pattern, hunting 50 to 100 meters out in front of the Marines. An IDD will respond to commands from this distance and can be redirected at a moment´s notice without having to return to the Marine. It can detect smells even while running at full speed, and when it finds something suspicious, it alerts the unit.

“This is the only dog like this in the world,” said Albuquerque. “It´s extremely good in terms of answering the warfighter´s requirements and an incredible force multiplier.”

The IDDs are all hunting bloodline Labrador Retrievers, selected for their hunting abilities, endurance and sturdiness, so they´re inherently “ruggedized” for their mission. These unique dogs are 100 percent mission-focused, having been custom-developed based on Marine requirements. For example, the dog has to be able to keep pace with a Marine on foot and to keep moving for long periods of time each day.

The IDD program places dogs at the squad level without any additional resources–financial or manpower–primarily because there is no need for special dog handlers. A Marine is selected from the unit, trained to work with the dog and returns to the squad as a member of a fire team operating with a live sensor–the IDD. When the Marine completes a tour, the dog returns stateside and is retrained and recertified by the government prior to being redeployed with another Marine.

The program originated in 2006 in response to a Universal Urgent Needs Statement for an off-leash explosive detector dog that could work in harsh infantry environments and provide remote IED protection with limited user training and no increase in personnel or infrastructure.

The Marine Corps is currently seeking feedback from Marines who have been deployed with or supported during deployment by IDDs. Go to the online survey at http://mcpd.us/survey/283/ and enter survey ID code “IDD2011.”

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