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Air Force explores replacing patrol dogs with robot dogs

April 1, 2024 - 21:48 By Lee Jung-joo
A four-legged robot is demonstrated at the Smart Factory + Automation World exhibition at Coex in southern Seoul on March 27. (Newsis)

South Korea's Air Force on Monday revealed that it is exploring the possibility of replacing patrol dogs with four-legged robots or robotic dogs, as the number of military dog handlers is expected to decrease due to a reduction in troops.

The Air Force intends to initiate a feasibility study to assess whether robotic patrol dogs can effectively supplant traditional breeds such as shepherds and Labrador retrievers at major air base facilities, while maintaining the integrity of the patrol and guard duties.

The Air Force emphasized the necessity of research, noting that patrol dogs currently face challenges in effectively carrying out their military duties at air bases. These challenges include the potential for human accidents and complexities involved in managing and controlling their aggression.

Furthermore, as the number of active soldiers at military bases is expected to decrease, the Air Force foresees a corresponding reduction in the number of military dog handlers.

According to the 2022 Defense White Paper released by the Ministry of Defense in February 2023, South Korea has up to 500,000 active soldiers, with 65,000 of them in the Air Force. This is a decrease compared to 2020, which counted 555,000 active soldiers.

The Air Force added that the introduction of robotic dogs could be efficient for Air Force military bases to shift the current military structure from one handler working with one dog to one handler working with numerous robotic dogs.

The background for the research being conducted by South Korea's Air Force also encompasses the US Air Force's pilot operation of doglike quadruped robots, which are being tested as potential replacements for traditional patrol dogs. The robotic dogs are tasked with prepatrolling for potential hazards before troops enter a certain area on a mission, and can run up to three hours at a speed of 3 meters per second.

To test the efficiency of robotic dogs, South Korea's Air Force plans to select sites that consider various environments and terrains to test whether robotic dogs can work the same way as patrol dogs do currently.