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Robot dog to give handlers a leg up in treating K-9s wounded in combat

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler, carries Argo II, his military working dog, over railroad tracks at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, March 4, 2011. This exercise builds trust, loyalty and teamwork between Martinez and Argo, who have only been working together for two months. (DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Allen Stokes, U.S. Air Force/Released)

Marine special operators are helping contractors design a new “robot dog” that will train handlers on treating working K-9s wounded in combat.

Nicknamed “Diesel,” the trainer mimics a variety of injuries, such as broken bones, bleeding and burns, and changes in vital signs. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command put the robot through its paces at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in December, and hopes to have it in wider use by spring, the service said in a statement.

“The new simulator Diesel brings a whole new level of realism to the training that we have not previously had,” a MARSOC veterinarian, who could not be identified for security reasons, said in an email. “The realism helps to induce the visceral and emotional response that is key in developing the muscle memory needed in high-stress situations such as combat.”

Diesel will allow Marines to practice a variety of battlefield medical procedures, including treatment of gunshot wounds, tracheotomies, CPR and administering IVs. All the physical injuries are accompanied by behavioral responses one would expect from a wounded dog, including barking and whimpering.

The MARSOC veterinarian said an earlier model of robotic trainer was far less capable. A trainer the Marines used before that amounted to a stuffed dog known as “Jerry.”

“With the first model that the company designed, there was little functional movement, limited physiologic responses and no way to vary the injuries,” he said. “The new simulator nearly triples the number of key features, includes five times the number of possible injuries, and it includes numerous interchangeable parts that allow a limitless number of training scenarios.”

Treating an injured service dog in combat can be extremely difficult for the team members, the veterinarian said. They grow as close to a dog emotionally as they would to one at home, and when they get hit, the team may have to keep the dog alive with little help for hours or even days.

MARSOC employs multi-purpose K-9 teams in various missions that include tracking, patrolling, detecting IEDs and narcotics. The teams are integrated with the special operations Raider task forces with which they deploy and undergo a 16-week MARSOC training program.

The evaluation of data from December’s training with Diesel is being reviewed by the program contractor Trauma F/X, a company that specializes in casualty simulation devices. Project directors are making refining changes to Diesel and production for the prototype is planned to start in March. Diesel could be made available across the military K-9 force as early as April.


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