By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This story that came out in the Times of London a couple of
weeks ago is truly a war-dog wonder: parachuting dogs being sent on secret
missions in Afghanistan. (The photograph is pretty unbelievable, too.)
These daredevil dogs (and their handlers) are part of Austrian special forces that are "[joining] Nato's Operation Cold Response, one of Europe's biggest military exercises, in Narvik, Norway. ... Commandos from 14 countries, including British special forces and Royal Marines, took part in the Nato exercise. The use of dogs in High Altitude High Opening missions was pioneered by America's Delta Force, which trained the animals to breathe through oxygen masks during the jump."
Dropping from 10,000 feet in the air these dogs "glide in" to land "unnoticed" and they "often carry cameras and are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon."
I'd be curious to speak to a veterinarian about this but the dog handler interviewed for this piece claims that:
Dogs don't perceive height difference. ... They're more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we're on the way down, that doesn't matter and they just enjoy the view. ... "It's something [this dog] does a lot. He has a much cooler head than most recruits."
After a little digging, I found this is hardly the first time the military -- in the United States or elsewhere -- has attempted to get its war dogs airborne.
The November 1935 issue of Popular Science Magazine ran an article about the Soviet army was experimenting parachuting dogs out of planes with a new invention -- the "cylindrical coop," which was:
provided with a parachute that opens automatically when it is tossed from a plane. The shell of the coop, locked closed during the descent, springs open of its own accord when the device strikes the ground."
In 1980, The Ocala Star Banner, ran this story about how the army was training a "crack corps of 40 German shepherd
dogs" who were accustomed to jumping off 8-foot towers so that they "would be able to withstand
the rigors of parachute jumping."
But perhaps most famous of all is the legendary SAS Rob, a collie and parachuting war-dog hero of WWII. Rob was awarded the animal's Victoria's Cross in 1945 for saving British soldiers' lives by "licking their cheeks to wake them at signs of danger" and for making a remarkable 20 parachute jumps. But in 2006, this amazing parachute-jumping lore was revealed to have been a hoax. Apparently, when the dog's owners requested Rob be discharged and returned home, the dog's SAS handler, Tom Burt, was said to have been so "upset at the prospect of losing him" he concocted the story to keep Rob in the regiment. Can we blame him?
(Hat tip: Spencer Ackerman)
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.