Image of partners in a K-9 combat tracker team resting

U.S. Army Specialist Justin Coletti, of a K-9 combat tracker team, rests with Dasty, a Belgian Malinois, at an airfield in Afghanistan following an overnight mission.
Photographer: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

An excellent article from Bloomberg describes the usage of dogs in the armed services today, and the development of robot dogs for training medics.

War is hell for almost everyone who gets near it. This includes animals—especially the hundreds of dogs the U.S. military has sent to serve alongside soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere since Sept. 11. Now, the Pentagon is taking steps to make sure more of them come home.

The armed services have had dogs since about day one. At the moment, roughly 1,600 Military War Dogs (MWDs) are either in the field or helping recuperating veterans. That’s approximately one dog for every three U.S. soldiers currently in Afghanistan.

These animals are, however, an increasingly precious resource. With terrorists targeting public transportation and tourist sites all over the world, global demand for bomb-sniffing dogs has surged. Canines with finely trained noses now fetch $25,000 and up on the open market, where border patrol units, the State Department, and private security firms go for canine talent. Even the war on bedbugs scoops up some of the best noses in the business. And that’s just U.S. demand.

The animatronic training dogs are developed by KForce Government Solutions and ( a nice touch) the developers of the models are all ex-Hollywood movie designers.

Our robot dogs, Hero and Diesel, bear a slight resemblance to the famous Star Wars character, Chewbacca, which is no coincidence. The core of TraumaFX’s development team, about two dozen employees, came from Industrial Light and Magic, the Hollywood FX shop that helped create Star Wars, Harry Potter and other hit franchises. TraumaFX bought the company’s “creature team” in 2014, after seeking their counsel on how to build a prosthetic dog.

“These guys are the real deal,” Hollander said. “But their capabilities as modelers were going extinct because of computer-generated graphics.”

When it comes to war dogs, simply procuring suitable dogs for training is not simple, and much of the source comes from Europe.

Once it has a promising pup, the Pentagon spends an additional $42,000 to train a K9 unit, a process that starts with obedience and drug and/or bomb detection at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Some of the dogs get a second round of training in how to patrol, detain an enemy and attack. A “dual-purpose” dog spends about 120 days completing both training cycles.

When all is said and done, a fully trained military dog costs about as much as a small missile. Keeping them in the field as long as possible is increasingly good business. (The Air Force declined to discuss canine casualty rates. )

Read the whole article.