Combat animals in the Russian Army

Service dogs play a significant role in detecting landmines and explosive devices. Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / mil.ru

Service dogs play a significant role in detecting landmines and explosive devices. Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / mil.ru

Modern technology can turn peaceful animals into fighting machines. With proper training, animals can cope with the sort of combat missions that no soldier is able to take on.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has decided to expand the practice of using animals to carry out combat missions.  Following a decree from Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, more than 400 recruits were sent this year to train in one of the most unusual specialisations in the Russian Armed Forces - as guard and mine-detection dog handlers. In addition to this, more than 300 four-legged soldiers already serve as guard dogs at military sites or are engaged in work linked to detection of explosives.

Service dogs play a significant role in detecting landmines and explosive devices. However the military would prefer not to elaborate as to precisely how many explosive devices are found or how many four-legged sappers are killed in the process.

In Nikolo-Uryupino, not far from the Moscow ring road there is a secret, cross-species training centre, which trains specialist sapper dogs. Here unique technology is used to train these dogs, allowing them to be guided remotely: a video camera and communications device is attached to the dog, and the handler communicates with the dog via a radio-link. Usually however for a dog to understand its owner it not only needs to hear them but also see them.

Aside from this know-how special body armour has been developed at Nikolo-Uryupino for these dogs. Specialists claim that the specific ‘fit’ means that the movements of the four-legged soldier are not hindered and this allows the dog to carry out any type of work. It is proposed that this body armour would be used in counter-terrorist and other special operations.

The Russian trainer Vladimir Durov who is still well known first developed the practice of using animals for military purposes. He conducted the first experiments in training dogs to carry out military missions in 1882.

Dogs however are not the only animals in service with the Russian Army. The Murmansk Institute of Maritime Biology set up a training centre to train seals and other creatures of the sea.

Today there are 15 ‘soldier seals’ in the Special Forces that come under the patronage of the Northern Fleet. They are few in number but this is enough in the long term for example to reliably guard strategic nuclear-submarines.

Gennady Matishov , an academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences says that the seals’ potential is useful in carrying out a range of missions both on land and underwater. This is however especially important when it comes to submarines, where human potential is restricted. For example, it is normal for a seal to dive to a depth of 100 metres, while for a human this is a serious test and is potentially life- threatening. Apart from that a seal is able to detect objects and take them off the bottom, bring tools down to a diver deep underwater and when necessary is even able to kill an enemy.

Just like ordinary soldiers, the seals are on seasonal combat duty close to the vessels. In contrast to humans however seals are not susceptible to the northern climate. Cold, snow and ice do not have any effect on their quality of service.

Vyacheslav Popov, the former Commander in Chief of the Northern Fleet spoke about special exercises that took place under his command:  Navy saboteurs were ordered to break into the nuclear submarine base undetected and mine the submarines. The navy soldiers though were not warned about what they would be up against. Minutes after the seals were released from their enclosures and set off into the gulf, all the saboteurs surfaced and made a dash for the shore. Even the courageous and trained soldiers from the elite special divisions in the Russian Navy were no match for the seals in their natural environment.

It has to be said that the Ministry of Defence prefers not to comment on programmes linked to training animals to carry out combat missions. Statistics concerning expenditure on these objectives are highly classified, and it is just not possible to gain access to either Nikolo-Uryupino or the Northern Fleet’s seal base.

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