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Author Topic: Return of the US Animal Corps?  (Read 25597 times)

Offline Grey Havoc

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Return of the US Animal Corps?
« on: May 30, 2011, 01:59:18 pm »
Move Over, Robots: Army Prefers Flesh-and-Blood Mules

By David Axe  May 27, 2011  |  10:40 am  |  Categories: Army and Marines



The experimental four-legged, pack-hauling robots aren’t gonna be ready for duty at the front anytime soon. So the Army is considering a big step backward in front-line logistics.

In place of the ultra-sophisticated BigDog cargo ‘bots that have been slowly trudging their way through the development process, the ground-combat branch wants more flesh-and-blood mules and donkeys. The Army is even considering the revival of a long-defunct headquarters, the “Animal Corps,” to oversee the four-legged recruits.

The goal is to take some of the weight off soldiers’ backs during long war-zone foot patrols. In Afghanistan, it’s not uncommon for soldiers to carry 100 pounds of gear, even when they’re scaling mountains.

If everything works out, the future Army could look a lot like the Army of the 19th century, with trains of braying, kicking mules trailing behind the foot soldiers as they stomp through fields, slog through streams and wheeze up steep hillsides. As in the Army of the 1800s, teams of specially trained veterinarians and animal handlers would ensure the combat mules stayed battle-ready.

The idea for a 21st-century Animal Corps was publicly broached by Jim Overholt, a scientist with the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, based outside Detroit. “Maybe it would be better to go back” to the days of institutionalized real-life pack mules, Overholt said at an industry conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

“They are not saying ‘don’t stop moving out on this real key robotic capabilities in [a] challenging environment,’” Overholt told a National Defense reporter, echoing the sentiments of top Army officers. ”It just might be more cost-effective” to use animals, he admitted.



That sentiment reflects the understandably slow process of building lifelike, workable, animal-style robots — particularly Boston Dynamics’ BigDog. That robot existed in prototype form as far back as 2004, and has since progressed through several different versions, each adding more power, better sensors and more sophisticated algorithms allowing the bot to detect and follow soldiers, instead of requiring a human operator with his hand on a joystick.

But despite years of work costing tens of millions of dollars, BigDog still isn’t viewed by the Army as rugged enough for a war zone. Plus, it’s big, heavy, noisy and expensive.

Progress has been equally slow on wheeled robotic mules. The Marines have tested a driverless All-Terrain Vehicle, and the Army is plugging away at the software for automatic supply convoys, but these too are easily foiled by rough terrain and unexpected objects appearing in their paths.

The good news for Overholt and his bosses is that the front-line Army is primed for animal reinforcements. Since the beginning of the Afghanistan war, a growing number of ground-combat units — Marines and Special Forces, especially — have “gone native” with their supply trains and adopted Afghan mules.

The mainstream Army started getting into pack-animal operations in a big way two years ago. I was embedded with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division in Logar province in the fall of 2009 when it occurred to some enterprising soldiers that a rented donkey might be the best way to move gear up the province’s steep hillsides.

This early experiment in routine animal-based logistics could not have gone worse. (See video above.) But it was a big step toward the man-animal teams Overholt envisions.

The 10th Mountain Division troopers needed to move a 300-pound generator a quarter-mile up a steep slope to a hilltop observation post. For that demanding task, they calculated they would need just one small donkey.

They were wrong. The overloaded animal, in extreme pain, simply quit walking just a few yards up the slope. To get the generator to the waiting OP, the soldiers had to carry it themselves … as the relieved donkey trotted happily behind them. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Sgt. Donald Coleman mused.

But the idea itself wasn’t bad — just its execution was. Two years later, the 10th Mountain Division, again deployed to Logar, has learned its lesson. For short missions in areas with roads, they use John Deere ATVs — the regular kind, not the driver-less models.

And for long treks across rough ground, the division’s troops keep their own donkeys, and enough of them, to handle heavy loads. Animal-loving soldiers volunteer for the critters’ care and feeding, and Army vets pay regular visits to look after the four-legged enlistees’ health.

It isn’t quite the Animal Corps, but with more mules, more formalized training and tactics and a wider acceptance of flesh-and-blood cargo-haulers, it could be.

Meanwhile, the Army could continue working on BigDog and other cargo ‘bots, confident that until the robots are ready, their animal counterparts will keep the combat troops well-supplied.


Video: David Axe; photo: U.S. Army

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/05/move-over-robots-army-prefers-flesh-and-blood-mules/
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Offline Nick

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2011, 04:16:56 pm »
What next, the US Cavalry riding horses across the Afghan Green Zone in search of Taliban? Makes for a real go-anywhere approach at speed. Can you make bullet-proof Stetsons with Kevlar?

Actually, camels would be more appropriate for Afghanistan.
http://www.drumbarracks.org/Original%20Website/Camel%20Corps.html

Offline Graham1973

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2011, 07:57:28 am »
What next, the US Cavalry riding horses across the Afghan Green Zone in search of Taliban? Makes for a real go-anywhere approach at speed. Can you make bullet-proof Stetsons with Kevlar?

Not sure, but if you watch the bravura ending of Trinity & Beyond (The footage of the first Chinese Nuclear Test) you catch a brief glimpse of horses wearing full Nuclear/Biological/Chemical suits (At 1:33-36 & 3:21 to the end).



Also if memory serves the US Army still has a part of it's manual dedicated to the 'care & maintenance' of four legged horsepower.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2011, 02:53:40 am by Graham1973 »

Offline Lauge

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2011, 10:17:55 am »
So the Army is considering a big step backward in front-line logistics.

I would humbly submit that, if the using mules, horses, camels, turtles or whatever leads to an increase in mobility and in the ability to resupply troops in the field, it is in fact a step forward.

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Offline JFC Fuller

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2011, 10:21:47 am »
I would have to agree with Lauge, logistics is about effective supply, not about doing it in an "advanced" way.

Offline Graham1973

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2011, 01:37:21 am »
After a little online digging I've managed to locate the WWII US Field Manuals for Horse Cavalry & Pack Transport.

FM2/5 Cavalry Drill (1944)
http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/FM/PDFs/FM2-5.PDF

FM25/7 Pack Transportation
http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/FM/PDFs/FM25-7.PDF

But I am fairly sure that there were equivalent manuals from the 1970s/80s or even later

Offline Orionblamblam

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2011, 12:04:17 pm »
I would have to agree with Lauge, logistics is about effective supply, not about doing it in an "advanced" way.

More than just "logistics," but "everything that needs doing." There are portable laser weapons; give me a rifle. There are scramjets; give me a solid rocket motor. There are genetic algorythms running in quantum computers; give me a laptop.

As the requirements become more advanced, the technology most effective to fulfill those requirements becomes more advanced. But "bringing stuff to soldiers on a mountaintop" is a requirement that militaries have had since the creation of militaries.
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Offline Graham1973

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2011, 08:27:59 am »

Offline Nick

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #8 on: June 27, 2011, 06:22:06 am »
Last week I browsed a copy of Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton which covers the use of horses in Afghanistan by US Special Forces. They were used to cover the rocky terrain in support of the Northern Alliance.
 
http://www.horsechannel.com/horse-exclusives/Fort-Bragg-military-horses.aspx
 
Michael Ashers' Khartoum has some good detail of the British Army (mis)use of camels and horses during the Sudan campaigns of 1883-1898.
 
I had a little laugh at the official document Graham found regarding the uses of Elephants;
Elephants are not the easygoing, kind, loving creatures that people believe them to be. They are, of course, not evil either.

Offline bobbymike

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2013, 12:36:30 pm »
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/03/bigdog-throws/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
 
I just picture the complexity it takes in computer code to throw while stabalized like this amazing IMHO
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Offline Thiel

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2013, 06:53:20 am »
I'd guess they're trying to get into the IED disposal field.

Offline Michel Van

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2013, 08:06:56 am »
i think this will be only a short revival of US Animal Corps
Because action of US Animal right activist,
on long term only Dog/K-9 units will remain. for rest, this will replace the Animal Corps.

BigDog by Boston Dynamic


of curse i could be wrong again, if DARPA decide to Genetic Manipulation on new breed for the US Animal Corps...
« Last Edit: March 03, 2013, 08:12:25 am by Michel Van »
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Offline Grey Havoc

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2013, 09:36:26 am »
of course i could be wrong again, if DARPA decide to Genetic Manipulation on new breed for the US Animal Corps...

Like this?:


[IMAGE CREDIT: UNA FRONTIERS/Monique MacNaughton/GRAPHIC SMASH]
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Offline Grey Havoc

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2013, 02:34:33 am »
Spotted this over on MilitaryPhotos.net. (h/t ronrod71.)

Only Army JROTC mounted cavalry celebrates 10 years with horses

Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 9:15 am

Gail Burkhardt | The Monitor



Posted on March 7, 2013
by
Gail Burkhardt


RIO GRANDE CITY – When the cadets in Rio Grande City High School’s Army Junior ROTC program put on their uniforms, mount their horses, and march in line, they help re-create local history.

More than a decade ago, school leaders and community members decided to create a stronger link to this city’s military past by modeling the high school’s JROTC program after the U.S. Army’s 12th Cavalry Unit, which was stationed at the city’s Fort Ringgold from 1848 through World War II.

During the 2002-03 school year, the school district added horses to the Rio Grande City High School’s Junior Army ROTC unit, paying further homage to the 12th Cavalry Unit.

Now, 10 years later, 23 JROTC Cadets, four of them on horses and two riding in a mule-led wagon, march in parades and other events. Their uniforms, saddles and other equipment are replicas of what the 12th Cavalry wore and used. The unit remains the only Army JROTC that uses horses.

“More than anything it’s a representation of a tie to the past when horses were used as the primary means of transportation and they patrolled the new border,” said Maj. David Rutledge, the senior Army instructor of JROTC at Rio Grande City High School.

While the JROTC program began at the high school in 1995, it didn’t become the 12th Cavalry Memorial Unit until 1998. Master Sgt. Marco Peña, who has been an Army instructor with the JROTC program since 1997, remembers how difficult it was to create a unit with that “tie to the past.”

In addition to creating the replica uniforms, the ROTC sponsors had to find someone who would make the same saddles that the cavalry used.

Peña thanked the school board and the area residents for their help in making the historic dream a reality.

“They were very supportive,” he said. “They helped us fund the horses and sabers.”


CARING FOR THE HORSES

Creating the mounted cavalry involved buying the horses and mule, building a stable and pasture to hold them, and finding a caretaker.

The caretaker part was easy enough as Eloy Rodriguez, a school maintenance worker at the time, is a competitive horse wrangler. Along with caring for the horses, Rodriguez and his wife, who works in the high school’s library, make sure the horses stay in line during drills and parades.

Their expertise came in handy during a recent windy practice at the high school. One of the horses felt the flag hitting its rear end and took that as a sign to go faster. But Rodriguez quickly calmed the horse down.

Although the mounted cadets have to be high school juniors or seniors who have moved up the ranks of the JROTC program, not many of them are experienced riders, Rutledge said. That’s why the program uses older, calmer horses and wranglers walk with the riders at all times.

“The last thing we’d want is to have (the horses) spook,” he said.

Last year the same horse who shifted away during practiced tried to run off during a parade, said Cadet Maj. Valeria Padilla, a 17-year-old member of the mounted patrol.

“The horse has a history,” she said.


MOVING THROUGH THE RANKS

Like all cadets, Padilla started off in the dismount cavalry, the 16 cadets who march to their commander’s rhythmic directions of “left … left … left, right, left!”

Cadet Sgt. Lauren Reyna, 17, is the one yelling those commands this year in her role as dismount commander. She said its hard keeping everyone in step and she sometimes has to tell the cadets to slow down or speed up to stay with the line.

The high schoolers said the program has taught them discipline.

“It helped us learn how to not be shy when speaking in front of people and how to make decisions in tough situations,” Padilla said.

JROTC organizers say that’s the goal of the program.

“The program teaches leadership and provides students with a solid foundation of discipline, teamwork and values they can build on to become productive members of society,” Lt. Col. Matt Hackathorn, a public affairs officer with the Army, wrote in an email. “Army JROTC is not a recruiting program for the Army, and cadets incur no military obligation from participating in Army JROTC.”

Rutledge and Peña said they don’t recruit students to join the military, but they do allow students to approach them with questions about serving. A few recent JROTC graduates joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

Rutledge noted that the responsibility needed and the promotions through the ranks show the students what adult life even outside the armed forces will be like.

“It pretty much mirrors the life they’re getting ready for,” he said. “They understand in the civilian world that rank might not be as visible but respect is.”

The program has given the students and their instructors the opportunity to travel to parades around Texas and even to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., in 2005. Making the 1,700-mile drive with the horses and mule made the trip much more interesting, Rutledge said.

“We got our fair share of attention at rest stops,” he said.

Padilla said spectators at events near and far are interested in the unit.

“They’re usually fascinated by the horses,” she said. “They’ll ask us questions about the horses and the dismount patrol.”

Rutledge said he enjoys local events, because Rio Grande City appreciates the historical value of the unit. In December, the unit attended the school district’s kickoff to revitalize the historic Fort Ringgold, which serves as the campus for two schools, the stadium and several administrative buildings.

It’s special to watch the JROTC unit march on the grounds where the 12th Cavalry was stationed, the instructors said.

“It does take you back in time and it gives you appreciation of how it used to look,” Rutledge said.



LINK
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Offline cluttonfred

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Re: Return of the US Animal Corps?
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2013, 06:15:30 am »
I am surpised that there hasn't been more mention of pack dogs as well as donkeys in this discussion.  A trained dog can pack 25-30% of body weight.  Obviously, they woudn't be the only solution, but they could complement and help manage the draft animals.
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