Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Dogs beat machines at detecting IEDs

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts it, “Dogs turn out to be best at finding IEDs.” This isn’t just a point to warm Rebecca’s heart. There are some serious lessons to be learned from the more than $15 billion (that’s a B, fellas) the Pentagon ...

U.S. Army
U.S. Army

Readers of this blog won't be surprised to learn that, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts it, "Dogs turn out to be best at finding IEDs."

This isn't just a point to warm Rebecca's heart. There are some serious lessons to be learned from the more than $15 billion (that's a B, fellas) the Pentagon spent on its effort to defeat IEDs technologically. But it turns out that the two most dependable ways to counter the roadside bombs are both warm-blooded. The first is the dog, to detect bombs planted. The second is putting soldiers who have a bit of Arabic out in an outpost in a neighborhood for weeks at a time and protecting people sufficiently that they feel safe pointing out to soldiers who is planting the bombs or where they are. As an Iraqi once put it to a U.S. Army commander in Ramadi, we all knew who the insurgents were, we just couldn't tell you and expect to live. 

I think there probably is a good dissertation to be done by someone out there about how most of that $15 billion got wasted here.

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts it, “Dogs turn out to be best at finding IEDs.”

This isn’t just a point to warm Rebecca’s heart. There are some serious lessons to be learned from the more than $15 billion (that’s a B, fellas) the Pentagon spent on its effort to defeat IEDs technologically. But it turns out that the two most dependable ways to counter the roadside bombs are both warm-blooded. The first is the dog, to detect bombs planted. The second is putting soldiers who have a bit of Arabic out in an outpost in a neighborhood for weeks at a time and protecting people sufficiently that they feel safe pointing out to soldiers who is planting the bombs or where they are. As an Iraqi once put it to a U.S. Army commander in Ramadi, we all knew who the insurgents were, we just couldn’t tell you and expect to live. 

I think there probably is a good dissertation to be done by someone out there about how most of that $15 billion got wasted here.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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