By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON – Make show, not war seems to be what dog breeders embrace – and because of that, there is a domestic shortage of military working dogs threatening national security, the U.S. Navy’s Naval Post Graduate School said.
“As adversaries, both peer and near-peer, become more adept in circumventing detection systems, the need for working dogs has steadily increased to address security vulnerabilities,” a report from the school said.
“The lack of a robust domestic supply of working dogs creates increased supply chain risk and may threaten the ability of departments and agencies that utilize working dogs to maintain readiness if the supply from foreign markets is contested or interrupted for an extended period.”
Perhaps stating the obvious, the report also noted that “unlike current technology, canines possess the ability to continuously adapt and provide a consistent detection capability.”
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are approximately 2,700 active-duty military working dogs in the U.S. Armed Forces.
For more than 30 years, the federal government has faced a shortage of domestically bred working dogs qualified for use by both the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. The shortage of domestically bred military working dogs has become more acute since U.S. breeders find it easier and more lucrative to focus on show dogs and service dogs, the report said.
While not able to say if the issue is part of a current Pentagon review of critical supply-chain issues, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday “make no mistake we fully understand” the supply chain dangers regarding military dogs and that the Pentagon “will take it seriously going forward.”
Military working dogs most often focuses on one of four breeds: German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherd or Labrador Retriever. Many are imported from Europe.
Although working dogs are not an official part of the current defense industrial base, the low domestic production capacity of working dogs threatens some of the government’s capabilities to provide national security, the report said. “Of the dogs within the current workforce, approximately 90% were bred overseas,” it said.
“A lot of our science and technology for years has been trying to replicate the work these dogs do. Their olfactory glands are 10,000 times more sensitive than any piece of equipment we’ve been able to develop. So, the detection work they do, a dog finding explosives or drugs, that’s never going to be replaced,” Major Matthew Kowalski, commander of 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, said, according to the report.
Military dogs have a ceremony when they receive awards and are buried with military honors. They hold a rank, and as tradition dictates, one higher than their handler.
Holmdel, New Jersey, is home to the United States War Dogs Memorial. Its centerpiece is a bronze statue of a Vietnam War soldier and his dog. The memorial pays tribute historically to all of America’s war dogs.