Anti-mining NGOs have known for awhile that a properly-trained rat can smell explosives and signal the threat's location to a human handler. Now the US Army Research Center has contracted a Virginia firm, Barron Associates, to look into training rats to accompany American soldiers.
Stars and Stripes reports that two years ago, the Pentagon sent researchers to evaluate work being done by de-mining charity APOPO, which used rats to find thousands of land mines buried across Mozambique, recovering from a decade of civil war. (The surprisingly charming video above is from the group).
Armed With Science reports that the copycat Pentagon program is being called the Rugged Automated Training System (yes: R.A.T.S.).
If successful, the program suggests a more aggressive posture for the rodents, transforming them from peacetime work removing mines from civilian farms and walkways, to a soldier's tool, detecting IEDS with patrols. Currently, the Army uses dogs. Rats cost far less to train -- about $10,000 each -- and weigh only three pounds, small enough to fit in a soldier's backpack.
A bit coldly, an Army spokeswoman quoted in the Stars and Stripes report noted that it's a lot harder to get emotionally attached to a rat than to a dog. That would spare the human handler trauma should the four-legged sapper not come home.