September 20, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Rex was just glad to have a change of scenery on his evening walkies.

Some people say a dog is a man’s best friend. ‘Some people’ doesn’t include Osama Bin Laden. Soon after the US Navy Seals raid on Bin Laden’s hide out, it was revealed a militarily-trained canine was responsible for sniffing out the world’s most-wanted terrorist.

Although it’s unlikely the dog was just given tuft of Bin Laden’s beard to sniff and then let loose, the dog was thought to be present to check of explosives as well as to track the scent of people hiding underground.  Above ground, if Bin Laden had tried to escape by foot, the dog would have been able to chase, pounce and hold him down with ease. Military-trained canines are able to reach a maximum speed twice that of a human. As it turned out, no running away from the Al Qaeda leader was involved.

‘Vapour-wake dogs’ are remarkably trained to detect the wafting scent of explosive material left behind in the air. These dogs are meticulously bred and trained by the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine at the cost of $20,000 each. They are particularly useful in situations when a suicide bomber is approaching from within crowded areas or when explosives are packed behind or within walls.

Some of the final tests these dogs go through before operating in the field involve the trainer attempting to ‘defeat’ the dog. In other words, the trainers use scenarios where explosives are so well concealed the dogs cannot perceive any bomb vapour. Once the dogs are fully-trained, the trainers will find it near-impossible to defeat the vapour-wake dog’s sensitivity.

Just like the men that were involved in Operation Neptune Spear (i.e. Operation Assassinate Bin Laden and Apparently a Few of His Family Members if They Get in the Way), the canine individual used has been placed under complete anonymity. It’s likely the dog is either a German Shepherd or a Belgian Malinois; two breeds typically trained by US and British military forces.  The Belgian Malinois is a shorter, stubbier breed than the German Shepherd and more suited to missions where the team is dropping into locations from helicopters.

As you can imagine, this ain’t just a pet-on-a-rope deal. Dogs typically used by US Navy Seals are kitted out with an extraordinary amount of advanced technology that even Tom Clancy might struggle to come up with.

The most notable physical modification is the implantation of Titanium choppers (typically the anterior teeth such as canines). This allows the dog to bite through and lock onto enemies clad with even with the toughest armour. Typical Titanium alloys (6% Aluminium and 4% Vanadium) have a compressive strength of around 970 MPa, whilst mammalian bone (i.e. teeth) compares at 170 MPa. That’s almost 6 times as strong.

Fido also wears Kevlar body armour, much like human soldiers. The ‘Canine Tactical Assault Vests’ contain attachments for parachuting and abseiling for use in ascendance from aerial vehicles. Although unconfirmed, it is likely Navy Seals Team Six were lowered from helicopters into Bin Laden’s compound.

Paris Hilton proclaims dogs in hats are cute, apparently. Navy Seals dogs are so well trained they are able to respond to remote commands transmitted to a fitted ear piece. The added use of a head-mounted camera means these dogs can be used for scouting missions into enemy territory. So, the next time a friendly canine wearing headgear arrives from the sky and looks at you with a deathly stare, run like Bin Laden couldn’t.