U.S. Army Training African Giant Pouched Rats to Detect Explosives

Posted on July 30, 2012

Scientists with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, in collaboration with engineers at West Point and the Counter Explosives Hazards Center, are training African giant pouched rats to detect IEDs and mines. The goal of the Rugged Automated Training System (R.A.T.S.) is to determine if the rats can help save the lives of soldiers. In July, Barron Associates was selected to develop and test a rugged, automated and low-cost system for training rats to detect improvised explosive devices and mines

William Gressick, senior research engineer and the project's principal investigator at Barron Associates, says, "The automated system we're developing is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal. Beyond this application, the system will facilitate the use of rats in other search tasks such as homeland security and search-and-rescue operations. In the long-term, the system is likely to benefit both official and humanitarian organizations."

Dr. Micheline Strand, chief of the Army Research Office's Life Sciences Division, which manages the program, says, "If we can demonstrate that rats can be trained inexpensively to be reliable detectors, then this method would not only lower costs for the Army but would also create new opportunities for using animals to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble."

The Department of Defense currently relies on dogs as the animal of choice for explosives detection. The researchers say the goal of the program is not to replace the use of dogs, but to expand the Army's detection capabilities. The researchers note that rats can search smaller spaces than a dog can and are easier to transport.

Strand says, "Training dogs is very expensive. If we can significantly reduce the cost of a trained animal, then we could provide more animals to protect soldiers."

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