From War Dogs to Remote Controlled Monkeys: Animals in the Military

Dogs have a long history serving alongside humans in military campaigns. The earliest recorded use of war dogs is from around 600 BC, and dogs have acted as scouts, sentries, and fighters in conflicts around the globe. Some dogs, such as Sergeant Stubby in World War I and Chips in World War II, have even been decorated for bravery and exemplary service.

One reason why dogs have been so successful in the military is likely the species’ long relationship with humans. Dogs are intelligent and can be trained to perform a wide array of tasks, as seen in the film below.

Not all military uses of animals have been so successful. Twentieth-century warfare contains many grand ideas that were never implemented, even after significant financial investment. One example is the bat bomb under development during World War II. The Marine Corps spent over $2 million on Project X-Ray, which involved a plan to drop thousands of hibernating bats carrying incendiary devices over Japanese towns and cities. When the bats awoke, they would spread out to roost in flammable local structures, at which time the bombs were set to ignite. The project was cancelled before deployment (possibly because focus had shifted to the atomic bomb), but not before some accidentally-released bats set fire to a hangar at the Carlsbad Army Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico.

A second project that never made it out of development during World War II was Project Pigeon. Overseen by behaviorist B.F. Skinner, the goal of this project was to create a pigeon-guided missile. Three pigeons trained to recognize a target would be enclosed within the nose cone of a missile and would peck at the image of the target as displayed on a small movable screen. This action would cause the missile to correct course toward the target. Though this particular project was cancelled, carrier pigeons played a large part in both World Wars, transporting messages over the battlefield. They may also have been used to some extent for aerial photography and reconnaissance purposes.

Another fascinating military animal project is described in a United States Air Force film that was declassified in 2012. Identified as Paisley Print Task I, the 1972 film depicts a project to train rhesus monkeys to follow remote direction to penetrate enemy territory for reconnaissance and sabotage purposes. The project was carried out by the Environmental Medicine and Human Engineering divisions of the 6570th Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The film describes the training given to the monkey, and then demonstrates an electrode vest that is remotely controlled by an operator to correct the monkey if it strays off of the desired course. According to the film’s narrator, successful implementation of the Paisley Print project would allow the Air Force to send monkeys equipped with cameras, or carrying explosives or supplies, into enemy territory that humans could not safely enter in order to carry out offensive countermeasures. Though the monkey successfully performs on the largely obstacle-free course at Wright-Patterson, it is unlikely that a remote-controlled vest would override the monkey’s instincts in a true combat situation.

There is very little documentation available about Paisley Print, and it is likely that the project never progressed beyond the development stage. You can watch the film report Paisley Print Task I below.

One thought on “From War Dogs to Remote Controlled Monkeys: Animals in the Military

  1. This sort of information can bring history alive for today’s students – great post.

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