Auburn University’s canine detectors to sniff out IEDs, help protect troops in Afghanistan

AUBURN – Auburn University has entered into a two-year, multimillion-dollar partnership with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, to stop improvised bombs in Afghanistan by providing a powerful detector tool – bomb-sniffing canines. The Department of Defense established JIEDDO to “lead, advocate, and coordinate all DOD actions to defeat improvised explosive devices.”

Auburn was selected to produce these IED-detection dogs because of the program’s long history of success with canine olfaction research and detector dog breeding and training. The Auburn University Canine Detection Research Institute and Training Center is the only program associated with a veterinary sports medicine program and a college of veterinary medicine.

“Technological developments have not been as effective as hoped in detecting IEDs in the field,” said Timothy Boosinger, dean of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Auburn is partnering with JIEDDO to protect the U.S. warfighter by developing a new detector canine to counter the continuing threat of IEDs.”

According to JIEDDO statistics, the American military locates about 50 percent of the improvised explosives planted in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that number increases to 80 percent when detector dogs are employed.

“Dogs are the best detectors,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, JIEDDO director.

Originating as a joint task force, JIEDDO became a permanently manned entity in 2006. Given the role and resources to comprehensively attack and defeat the IED threat, the organization has grown to support a broad spectrum of counter-IED initiatives, tools and programs with a staff comprised of military personnel, government civilians and contractors.

The use of improvised explosives continues to rise in Afghanistan. A report by the United Nations Security Council in September recorded a rise in the number of incidents using improvised explosive devices by 82 percent compared to the same period in 2009. The report states that such attacks negatively affect the population’s confidence in the ability of the Afghan and international security forces to uphold the rule of law and to deliver essential social services.

Eighty percent of the explosive devices in Afghanistan are made using homemade explosives from fertilizers and chemicals, making metal detectors less effective. The detection canine can pick up the odors produced by the explosives in the form of invisible vapors or signatures.

“The ‘next generation’ dog produced for JIEDDO is not guided by a handler, but by its sense of smell,” said John Pearce, associate director of the Auburn University Canine Detection Research Institute. “Next Gen” dogs will incorporate aspects of the Vapor Wake Detection canine.

“Detection is a significant challenge,” said Pearce. “Dogs are superior to other methods and are the best way to save lives.”

“For over 20 years, Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine has been committed to advancing the basic science of detection,” said Boosinger. “This partnership with the Department of Defense reaffirms our commitment.”

“Our goal is to produce superior detector dogs that contribute to national security and to protection of troops,” said Boosinger. “The Auburn dog is a unique resource.”

(Contributed by Tara Lanier)

Contact: John Pearce, associate director of the Canine Detection Research Institute, (256) 310-0705 (pearcjc@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)