National Shortage of Key Frontline Defense Against Terrorism
The government’s first comprehensive review in 15 years of domestically bred working dogs warns that the United States remains dangerously short of this frontline defense against terrorist attacks and for critical security tasks, such as sniffer bombs and the prohibition of narcotics.
The federal government, according to the US Navy’s Naval Post Graduate School, “faces a chronic shortage of qualified national-breed working dogs for use by both the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.” As adversaries, both peer and near-peer, become more adept at circumventing detection systems, the need for working dogs has steadily increased to address security vulnerabilities.
“The lack of a robust domestic supply of working dogs creates increased supply chain risk and may threaten the ability of departments and agencies that use working dogs to remain ready if supply to foreign markets is disputed or discontinued for an extended period,” said the small-noted 157-page completed report.
The problem has plagued Capitol Hill for several years. In 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., succinctly summarized the pressing need to fix the security deficit. “I don’t think the public understands how scarce this resource is,” said Rogers, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, “and how critically important it is to our national security.”
The issue is slowly beginning to receive the high level attention it deserves. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, drafted a measure in the annual Defense Authorization Bill that supports the evaluation of the outlines of a defense program. national military working dog breeding.
“I was surprised to learn from the Air Force that the vast majority of our working dogs are actually born and bred in Europe, which increases costs and puts us in competition with other countries,” said said Blumenthal.
One of the reasons for the shortage of working dogs bred in the country for these vital roles is familiar to most government contractors: an impenetrable bureaucracy and a lack of transparency.
Many domestic dog breeders have the ability to produce exceptional working dogs, the report said, but the government’s “onerous procurement process discourages vendors from supplying dogs to the government sector of the market. The non-standard requirements, the rating system, and most importantly, the uncertainty of future government demand for working dogs make it difficult for sellers to continue doing business with the government.
While electronics generally defines high tech, sensing technology is an outlier: no man-made technology can come close to the sensing abilities of highly trained and bred dogs.
This is certainly true when you consider the range of security roles these dogs perform. They are also used to detect smuggled people, narcotics, currency, firearms, electronic devices, chemicals associated with weapons of mass destruction and are used in search and rescue missions. They are employed in facilities, public buildings and communities across the country.
The United States rarely, if ever, cedes critical national security obligations to foreign manufacturers. From fighter jets to submarines to tanks, the default goes to US suppliers. But of the dogs that protect millions of people every year, about 93 percent come from foreign sellers or domestic sellers who import foreign-bred dogs, according to the report.
The federal government currently maintains approximately 5,000 working dogs in four departments – the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State. But only 7% is raised domestically and the rest is imported from Europe, according to the report. Another estimated 5,000 working dogs are deployed to local law enforcement and private facilities, with a similarly low percentage high nationally.
The best dogs tend to be retained for use in Europe, where they are bred. And the United States finds itself in a position to compete with its military counterparts, Russia and China, for the same dogs in the same markets.
The supply of competent working dogs from foreign sources continues to tighten. The threat of terrorism and the resulting demand for working dogs in Europe and around the world means that there is a growing shortage of even low-quality foreign dogs available to protect the United States.
The Department of Defense maintains a modest breeding program at its kennels at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, far from sufficient to meet domestic demand.
Farmers, researchers and government agencies are committed to closing this safety gap. Additionally, the Biden administration has underscored a renewed commitment to made-in-the-U.S. goods and services in federal government procurement. That’s why a top priority for the new administration and congressional defense committees should be to implement a less complicated procurement process.
“Although working dogs and their acquisition do not usually make the headlines, their importance should not be underestimated,” the report summarizes. “Despite continued and rapid advances in technology, working dogs remain a vital and irreplaceable asset to national security.”
Let’s hope Congress and the new administration are listening.
Goffe is vice president of government relations for the American Kennel Club.
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