Stupid Military Ideas

ARE all militaries as stupid as this or do they get far too much money using animals for war, which is reprehensible But the military constantly thinks up new ways in which to use animals for defence and aggression. Since the military is a sacred cow in all countries, much above education and social welfare or health, it gets a large chunk of the budget, and certainly no one is allowed to question what it does with its budget.

So they are children with toys. It doesn’t matter how many absurd ideas they come up with and how much money they spend. I remember during the 70s they had spent a huge amount of money to produce gigantic vegetables in Ladakh – carrots that were one foot long and pumpkins so huge they could be turned into chariots!

But when it comes to animals we should be far more alert. They kill millions in hare brained schemes which are then abandoned. Here are some of them- I am only taking the recent ones and not those that go back centuries, like Pliny the Elder’s recommendation to the Roman military to use pigs as they scared away elephants:

Honeybees are natural-born sniffers and are now being trained to recognize the scents of bomb ingredients. The idea is to make a box, and inside it, bees would be strapped into tubes and exposed to puffs of air where they could constantly check for the faint scent of a bomb. A video camera linked to pattern-recognition software would alert authorities when the bees started waving their proboscises in unison.

In the 70s the Israelis placed trained gerbils in cages at security checks at the Tel Aviv airport. A fan wafted the scent of suspects into the gerbils’ cage, and the animals pressed a lever if they detected high levels of adrenalin – which meant that a terrorist was about to enter. However, the Israelis were forced to abandon it after it was discovered that the gerbils couldn’t discern between terrorists and passengers who were just scared of flying.

The U.S. Department of Defence has a programme called Hybrid Insect Initiative. Scientists implant electronic controls into insects’ bodies during the early stages of metamorphosis and allow tissue to grow around them. The insects can then be tracked, controlled and used to gather or transmit information. For example, a caterpillar could carry a microphone to record conversations or a gas sensor to detect a chemical attack.

In the 60s the US decided to make cats into bugging devices as part of Operation Acoustic Kitty. The idea was to surgically alter cats so they could eavesdrop on conversations from park benches and windowsills. A battery and a microphone were implanted, and its tail became an antenna. Finally, after five years, several surgeries, intensive training and $15 million, a cat was ready for its first field test. It was let out of a parked van across the street and immediately hit by a taxi. Operation Acoustic Kitty was declared a failure and abandoned in 1967. In 2007, Iranian authorities captured 14 squirrels, which were allegedly carrying spying equipment.

Toward the end of World War II, the Air Force suggested strapping small incendiary devices to bats, loading them into cages shaped like bombshells and dropping them from a plane. Bats would then escape from the shells and find their way into Japanese buildings where their miniature bombs would explode. The U.S. military began developing these “bat bombs” in the early 1940s, but the first test went awry when the bats set fire to an Air Force base in the U.S. Many uncooperative bats simply dropped like rocks or flew away, despite the U.S. Army using as many as 6,000 of the mammals in their experiments. The U.S. Navy spent $2 million after taking over the effort, before finally giving up. The project was turned over to the Navy and the bats set fire to a mock-up of a Japanese city. The program was cancelled in 1944 because of its slow progress.

Chickens were developed for use during the Gulf Wars to detect poisonous gases in an operation called Kuwaiti Field Chicken (KFC). The programme was designated Poultry Chemical Confirmation Devices. It was abandoned after 41 of 43 chicken, used for such purposes, died within a week of arrival in Kuwait.

This is not the first time chickens have been used by the military. In the British Blue Peacock project it was decided to bury nuclear bombs in the ground for later detonation should West Germany be overrun by Russian forces. The idea was to bury them in underground pens as the electronic devices of the 1950s were unreliable in frozen ground, and the chickens were considered as a source of biogenic heat. Fortunately it didn’t happen as Russia stayed away and the chickens and bombs were brought out.

Rats were killed and stuffed with plastic explosives by the British military in World War II. The carcasses were left by spies in factories all over Germany where, it was hoped, the stoker tending a boiler would dispose of it by shovelling it into the furnace, causing it to explode. Unfortunately, though millions were spent on stuffing rats and then sneaking them into Germany, the scheme did not work.

In the 1920s, the Russian military under the orders of Stalin tried to create a race of super soldiers by crossing human and chimpanzee genes. Top veterinary scientist, Ilya Ivanov was tasked with creating an “invincible human being, insensitive to pain.”  Female chimpanzees were impregnated with human sperm. The next stage of the experiment was to use ape sperm to impregnate a human female. The programme was called off when the animals died.

Both Sweden and the Soviet Union attempted to utilize moose as cavalry instead of horses. Unfortunately the animals were difficult to feed and, at the first sound of gunfire, fled the battlefield.

In 1994, the US Air Force started an initiative to develop non-lethal weapons for use in combat. One of the proposals was entitled Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals. One idea was a bomb which would contain pheromones to attract bees or wasps to sting the enemy soldiers. (Another was a bomb using strong aphrodisiacs that “caused homosexual behaviour.”).

Pigeons have always been used to carry messages but a World War II idea, Project Pigeon was a US military plan to place pigeons inside the nose cone of a missile in order to guide it towards the right target. 

A specialized nose cone would be created that would fit onto a Pelican missile. Each cone had three compartments that would house trained pigeons and a screen that showed the path of the missile. As the missile fell towards its target, the pigeons would peck at the screen and align the missile in the right direction. The pigeons were trained beforehand to recognize the target, so if it was off-centre—such as when the missile veered off course—the controls would correct until all three pigeons were pecking at the centre of the screen, keeping the target dead-centre ahead. The project received funding but was later abandoned. 

During World War II to prevent German pigeons from coming into England, the British trained a force of peregrine falcons to patrol the coast of Great Britain and intercept them. Two enemy pigeons were captured alive and kept as prisoners of war.

I could go on and on with the military’s mad ideas but none of this is funny because so many animal lives were lost in the process. One day we must find out what our own army is doing.

Animal rights and environment activist, Maneka Gandhi writes weekly column ‘Heads & Tails’ for the Kashmir Observer. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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