Government Spending

Also, He's Always Happy and Affectionate When the Defense Secretary Comes Home, Even if He Spent the Day Lying to the Country About Why We Went to War


It was under their nose all along.

Picking up the chemical signature of those bombs should be relatively straightforward — just a matter of picking up the stray molecules that float away from unstable explosive material. In practice, it hasn't been so easy. In 1997, a young program manager at Darpa launched the "Dog's Nose" progam, to develop a bomb-sniffer as good as a canine's. Today, that program manager, Regina Dugan, runs the entire agency.

It's now 2010. What have they found?

Drones, metal detectors, chemical sniffers, and super spycams — forget 'em. The leader of the Pentagon's multibillion military task force to stop improvised bombs says there's nothing in the U.S. arsenal for bomb detection more powerful than a dog's nose.

Despite a slew of bomb-finding gagdets, the American military only locates about 50 percent of the improvised explosives planted in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that number jumps to 80 percent when U.S. and Afghan patrols take dogs along for a sniff-heavy walk. "Dogs are the best detectors," Lieutenant General Michael Oates, the commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, told a conference yesterday, National Defense reports. That's not the greatest admission for a well-funded organization — nearly $19 billion since 2004, according to a congressional committee — tasked with solving one of the military's wickedest problems.

Seems like $19 billion would have bought and trained a lot of dogs.

CORRECTION: The $19 billion figure is DARPA's entire budget since 2004, not the amount of money allocated to Dog's Nose.

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  1. Where’s the SWAT team?

    1. They should be breaking down the door soon. That puppy looks guilty of something.

    2. Why do you hate dogs?

      1. A dog and his band of teenage ne’er do well friends upset my scheme to retrieve an armored car from the bottom of a swamp, which relied on my dressing up in a rubber swamp monster outfit to scare away any snoopers. Prison wasn’t so bad, you could make sangria in the toilet. It’s shank or be shanked, though.

        1. Scruffy believes in this company!

          1. I would have settled for a hard roll and some ketchup.

            1. You’re a shark!

              1. My only regret… is that… I have… bone-itus!

                1. Maybe if you didn’t spend all your time being an eighties man, you would have found a cure.

  2. Would someone tell this to the TSA. We don’t need full body scanners.

    1. Just a quick sniff to the crotch, and off to your flight!

      1. But what about women? They hate it when a dog sniffs their crotches.

  3. I’m frozen into inaction by cuteness overload.

  4. Not all R&D efforts yield positive results. Failure are to be expected, especially in government programs. This does not mean the efforts shouldn’t be made.

    That said, 13 years with no breakthroughs or even improvements on existing capabilities means it is past time to re-examine and almost certainly kill the program.

    IOW, I don’t fault the initial effort, I fault the seemingly eternal life of government programs that fail to do what they were designed for.


  6. Did anyone see the Mythbusters episode where they tried to fool a sniffer dog? Truly amazing. I can’t imagine humans building anything so effective.

    1. Yes. But they did manage to fool the dog in the last trial.

  7. You do realize that nature gave the dog’s nose about a 10 million year head start, correct?

    Plenty of 19th century British naval captains scoffed at the waste of money on research into wireless radio communications, when pigeons were reliable enough for sending messages. One of them probably even quipped that all that money could have been better spent on breeding faster birds.

    1. The British Navy is an apt reference for Darpa as well. In a long-ago forerunner of the Darpa prizes, the British Navy offered the Longitude Prize for a clock that could keep time at sea. It was considered impossible my many at the time, including Sir Isaac Newton. Despite this skepticism, the prize was claimed fairly quickly.


        A great little book on that very subject

        1. But likely not nearly as entertaining as this fiction, tangentially related to the longitude problem.

          1. You’ll have to explain the appeal some day. I really didn’t get it.

          2. I liked The Island of the Day Before, however I enjoyed some of Eco’s other novels even more, Foucault’s Pendulum in particular.

      2. ?

        The prize took a long time to be awarded.

        The eventual winner, a clockmaker, had to wait decades for his prize because the Royal Society did not welcome his “Not Invented By Us” inventor.

        1. The Army gave the Smithsonian’s chief $50,000 to develop an airplane – which didn’t work. The Wright brothers built theirs for about $1,000.

        2. Fair point. I was more thinking in terms of “goals accomplished” and compared with “this is impossible and will likely never be achieved” as a timeline.

          The intrigue over the awarding of the prize makes for a really good read. And not to open the PBS can of worms, but there was a really good Nova episode on the topic.

          1. I like NOVA. And I’ll like it still when it’s a commercial show on The Science Channel.

            1. We know for sure that Telemundo isn’t going to pick it up.

  8. R&D programs often fail to produce a viable system. This does not mean that funding R&D programs, including bomb detection devices, is a bad idea. It wasn’t.

    The failure is the seemingly eternal life of government R&D and other programs that have shown no success and no indication of success in the short to medium term future.

    I don’t fault the effort, I fault the inability to admit failure.

    1. JIEDDO is a massive money sink, and for a problem that is practically unsolveable. It’s far easier to change an IED triggering device than to actually detect and jam/disarm one.

    2. Good point. Also $19B is DARPA’s total budget not just the budget for the “Dog’s Nose” program.

      1. Including the DARPA Grand Challenge, which led to self-driving vehicles, which Google is now working to bring to market. That one project would more than justify the cost of the entire DARPA project should this actually reach its full potential.

        1. That’s been interesting to watch. They started barely getting cars to drive themselves in a straight line and got to the point where the cars could drive in a mocked-up city.

      2. No the $19B is not DARPA’s budget since 2004, it is how much has been spent by JIEDDO. Dog’s Nose was one DARPA effort related to that.

        JIEDDO also dumped a buttload of money into a black hole called Ionatron.

    3. The failure is the seemingly eternal life of government R&D and other programs that have shown no success and no indication of success in the short to medium term future.


      … Hobbit

      1. Thanks for buttressing my point. Started on ’39 controlled nuclear fission was achived in ~3 years demonstrating the feasability of a fission bomb.

    4. J sub D is right on the mark. The government sponsored research that allowed for failure has been some of the most productive. I got to work with one of the more unusual vehicles for that sort of thing and there were some real payoffs, despite my libertarian misgivings. If any of you like Google Earth, you might think so too.

  9. Dugan photo please…for comparison with the dog of course.

    1. The Gil Kerlikowske/ Droopy Dog resemblance has already been established.

  10. This requires the old standard Robocop reference:

    “I had a guaranteed military sale with ED… Renovation program….Spare parts for years. Who cares if it worked or not?”

    1. Point it at the ED-209…

    2. I had a guaranteed military sale with ED… Renovation program….Spare parts for years. Who cares if it worked or not?

      The old man thought it was pretty important, Dick.

      1. I’m cashing you out, Bob.

  11. $19 billion could easily have bought plane tickets out of Iraq and Afghanistan for the troops stationed there.

    1. As well as tickets out for all the Afghans who didn’t want to live under the Taliban.

      1. You’ve hit upon the solution. Jesus, how come no one has thought of this before? Why don’t we simply evacuate Afghanistan? Move all of the people there to, say, India or China, then close the doors?

        1. Better yet, evacuate the Taliban to Venezuela.

          1. The thought of Chavez and Sheik Omar living under the same roof does have a certain appeal.

            Although I have a friend in Venezuela whom I would like to see get out first.

            1. This is awesome. Simply take any insanely disputed territory, and move the population to somewhere else. No winners, no losers, just some empty land. Good for the environment, too!

              1. This is awesome. Simply take any insanely disputed territory, and move the population to somewhere else. No winners, no losers, just some empty land. Good for the environment, too!

                Worked for the Roman Empire.

            2. Simply take any insanely disputed territory, and move the heavily armed and already pissed off population to somewhere else.

              What could possibly go wrong?

              1. Nothing. It’s not like the TSA will let them go anywhere with their weapons. Or bottled water. Or fingernail files. Or paper with sharp edges.

                1. Well, if they try to hide their weapons in a body cavity, of course the TSA will find them.

                  If they just ask the TSA agents to hold them until they’ve gone through the screening device, the Taliban should have no problem getting anything smaller than a SAM launcher on the flight.

                  1. I’m thinking that the Taliban should be moved to the middle part of Baja California.

                    1. We hear Tampa is nice.

  12. Seems like $19 billion would have bought and trained a lot of dogs.

    for $19 billion we could have designed and built dogs that fly better then the drones.

    1. If the Pentagon tried to develop a flying dog, they’d wind up with a flying elephant.

      Dumbo may have been prophetic.

  13. What about bees? And rats? And naked mole rats with bees strapped to their backs?

    1. There has been work on bees to sniff explosives but I think that whole department at DARPA went away under the last director’s tenure.

  14. DARPA funds high risk, high reward research projects. High risk implies that some of these probably most, will fail to find what they’re looking for.

    What’s the point of this post?

    1. To antagonize the Jones’

    2. Yeah, it’s like the lottery: gotta play to win!

  15. I don’t do dogs (in public) but I made a lovely “cute cat” video that I think some of you might enjoy, if you are indiscriminate drones, not that there is anything wrong with that. Click my name! Click my name!

    1. Oh, spoofer, you made a fatal mistake: I would never fail to capitalize my name. Of course, I doubt anyone could possibly mistake your “voice” for mine, but really, the lower case “e” was incredibly sloppy.

      1. So that’s not the real Episiarch? I was correcting my world view, too. Dangit.

      2. Flattery. You’re popular enough to spoof!

      3. What are you talking about? I used the lower-case e in deference to your magnificence. The world is big enough for both of us, don’t you think? Or don’t you?

        1. I just KNEW there were E-clones out there.

      4. WTF *is* an Episiarch, anyway??


        1. Oops, found it.

          Had to get the spelling right, first!


  16. Mother nature is a hard act to follow.

    1. In some things. Not so in others. Know of any animals stronger than a hydraulic press? Faster than a cheap car?

      1. ::muses on a big cat’s chances against a cheep car, if the contest is held on the cats home ground::

        / memories of taking a ’77 Toyota Corona up to the “hunting cabin”: it could handle surprisingly rough terrain, but not fast…

        // …and of driving a compact rental car over a “state road” in
        rural New Mexico, where state road numbers can (or at least could) be assigned to gravel roads as long as they’re graded.

        /// also looking forward to this episode of Top Gear.

        1. as long as they’re graded

          “Graded” being very subjective.

          … “New Mexican” Hobbit

          1. I was pretty happy that I was going way too fast when I hit that one low spot; a dry wash crossed the road there and the gravel turned into course sand at least eight inches deep. I swear the body of the car skipped on it ’cause the tiny little wheels must have been up to their axles.

            But momentum carried us though, and it was a rental car…

      2. Pound for pound and across rough terrain and or water.

        Yes to all.

        it’s subjective

        1. Cars and hydraulic presses are also incapable of any sort of autonomous activity, most importantly acquiring their own energy without the help of humans.

          Robotics technology is getting to the point where that barrier might be broken soon, though.

          1. What could possibly go wrong?

            1. Nothing. If i remember correctly, the non-autonomous hydraulic press still trumps fairly advanced robots.

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