Monday, May 20, 2013

Navy-USMC Team ... Animal Team

In case you missed it, there were two stories that came out over the weekend that are a reminder that as we get all PPT'd up about technology that may or may not work now and then - and for a kings ransom, that some things just "work" - and they love you for it.

One warms the heart;
When Marine Sgt. Ross Gundlach served as a dog handler in Afghanistan, he told the yellow lab who was his constant companion that he'd look her up when he returned home.

"I promised her if we made it out of alive, I'd do whatever it took to find her," Gundlach said.

On Friday, he made good on that vow with help from some sentimental state officials in Iowa who know how to pull off a surprise.

Since leaving active duty to take classes at the University of Wisconsin this summer, Gundlach, of Madison, Wis., had been seeking to adopt 4-year-old Casey.

The 25-year-old learned Casey had finished her military service and had been sent to the Iowa State Fire Marshal's Office, where she was used to detect explosives.

Gundlach wrote to State Fire Marshal Director Ray Reynolds, explaining the connection he felt with the dog. He even has a tattoo on his right forearm depicting Casey with angel wings and a halo, sitting at the foot of a Marine.

"He's been putting a case together for the last two months, sending me pictures ... it just tugged on your heart," Reynolds said.

Reynolds decided to arrange a surprise.

There is also a story of even more seriousness. Now and then, people come out to get rid of the Navy Marine Mammal program. The usual suspects come out from the goofy-clueless left, but another threat are - as it is with many things that actually work - the transformationalists.
In a bit of good news for dolphins – but bad news for robots – the Navy's roster of mine-hunting marine mammals is going to be replaced by unmanned underwater vehicles starting in 2017. The reason? It's not that the Navy's team of 24 mine-hunting dolphins is doing a bad job. It's just that it's a lot easier to manufacture and program a, "12-foot, torpedo-shaped robot," as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, than it is to stick a dolphin in a multi-year training program. That, and we presume it's a lot easier on the conscience if a hunk of lifeless parts gets blown up versus a… well, anyway. It's not as if the specially trained dolphins are being given a pink slip and sent out to a watery pasture. Rather, it's likely that the 24 mine-hunting dolphins – of 80 total dolphins within the Navy's $24 million marine mammal program – will be reassigned to different aquatic tasks. It's also possible that the dolphins might be retained to find bombs placed on the bottom of a body of water, a different kind of mine hunting that could still make use of the dolphins' unique skills.
Great. Getting rid of something else for the PPT promise of LCS. 

I think they'll be back though, not so much that LCS MIW won't be able to do their job in an OK manner, just that they won't be as good as that big mammal brain. Lee Pattinson can tell you;
Do you see technology phasing out the use dolphins?
I worked very closely with the UUV platoon, and it is amazing what the machines can do. However, I don’t believe they will ever surpass the capabilities of the animals. My animal never ceased to amaze me with his detection ranges of underwater objects. Unlike the UUV, the dolphin can think and decipher on its own what is what. The UUV just gives you back data and the human still has to sift through it all and decide if it is a “mine” or any object they may be looking for.
Case in point;
The discovery itself is notable enough: Navy specialists found a rare torpedo off the San Diego coast, an 11-foot brass gem called the Howell that dates back 130 years or so and was one of the first torpedoes to propel itself. Only 50 were made, and only one other one still exists. But what makes the story even better is that the Navy specialists who found it were trained dolphins, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Steampunk torpedo. Well done.


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