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SOCom seeks performance-enhancing products for its commando dogs

Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, is looking for ways to boost the senses and survivability of dogs like this one that work with commando units. [U.S. Special Operations Command]
Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, is looking for ways to boost the senses and survivability of dogs like this one that work with commando units. [U.S. Special Operations Command]
Published May 2, 2017

TAMPA — U.S. Special Operations Command is looking for more effective ways to unleash the hounds of war.

The command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base is asking small business to develop nutrients or pharmaceutical products that will improve the performance of its own working dogs. At the same time, SOCom is seeking ways to inhibit the work of pooches used by the enemy.

SOCom relies on dogs for jobs like detecting explosives and enemy personnel and works to keep enemy dogs from exposing its secrets.

So the command submitted a request last month through the Pentagon's Small Business Innovation Research portal for companies interested in developing the necessary products. They are asked to respond via email to sbir@socom.mil.

For its own dogs, SOCom is seeking products that optimize hearing, vision and scent, improve recovery time when wounded, and increase survivability.

The goal, according to the request, is to help the animals — called "multi-purpose canines" — perform at "very high levels for long durations" under "high levels of stress and distraction."

At the same time, the request says, the products "must be safe, affordable and easily administered."

The request includes references to six scientific studies on the subject.

About 150 multi-purpose canines are in use across SOCom, said Ken McGraw, a spokesman for the command.

One of the best known among them is a Belgian Malinois named Cairo, who, with his commando handler, accompanied members of SEAL Team 6 on the 2011 raid in Pakistan in which Osama bin-Laden was killed. Cairo even has a Facebook page.

At the same time, SOCom is looking for ways to deter enemy dogs — without killing them.

"Special Operations Forces must be able to walk or run undetected through rural and urban areas without alerting adversarial domesticated and feral canines," according to the request.

Accomplishing this, the SOCom request says, "will increase unit effectiveness and reduce the possibility of compromise."

Commandos need the ability to inhibit barking, howling and whining, reduce hearing and vision, provide distractions and even render animals unconscious, the request says.

Any inhibitors should be safe to humans, or in the alternative, include the capacity to eliminate danger with personal protective equipment. The inhibitors, according to the request, should be effective for at least 30 minutes.

For companies that develop the products, there are potential benefits beyond working with SOCom: Both the enhancement and inhibiting products have potential commercial use outside the commando world, SOCom says.

Examples include sporting, hunting and agility applications, as well as use by other government agencies with canine units.

As for the inhibiting products, SOCom says, other government agencies that need to confront troublesome dogs might have an interest, as well — including the U.S. Postal Service.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.