Military research on animals

Military research on animals

One of the purposes for which animals are used as mere tools is military research. The extent to which military research is done on nonhuman animals is not known since it is very difficult to obtain information on this topic. The United States Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, does not have the authority to inspect labs that belong to the federal government. In the UK, experiments carried out in the military laboratories of Porton Down also remained secret for years. However, it is known that a wide range of weapons are tested on animals. These include AK-47 rifles, biological and chemical agents, and even nuclear blasts.1 Between 1997 and 2007 the number of animals used in weapons research in Britain rose from 4,500 to over 18,000. In 2005 in Porton Down 21,118 animal-based testing procedures took place, nearly twice as many as in 1997.2

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Turkey do not use animals in military medical training exercises, citing various reasons including availability of simulation technology. The Military Police of Lithuania uses dogs, although they are not used in military or medical training exercises.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Poland, the Unites States, and the United Kingdom (which sends medical personnel to participate in Denmark’s animal laboratories) use animals in military medical training exercises, primarily pigs and goats, for training in the surgical management of trauma including difficult airways, penetrating injuries, gunshot wounds, and amputation hemorrhaging. United States also uses rabbits for chest tube insertion and eye surgery practice and rats for microsurgery exercises, as well as ferrets for intubation training.3 Canada also uses pigs in live agent chemical casualty management exercises.4

These experiments have been criticized for being too costly since most of the effects have been studied already, or, in some cases, the results are not relevant to humans. However, if we reject speciesism, we should reject experiments that would never be considered acceptable if they were carried out on humans. Following are a few examples of experiments that would never be done on humans but that are done on animals.

Experiments to test weapons

These experiments are among the more common ones for which animals are used. To see how new weapons can harm human victims, they are tested first on animals. Here are just a few examples:

  • In Porton Down (UK), pig killings have occurred for years. In one procedure ten female pigs were exposed to a very toxic gas called Phosgene.5 Most died due to the effects of the gas on their respiratory systems. The animals who didn’t die immediately were killed by the researchers after they recorded the effects of the gas.
  • In another experiment carried out in Porton Down, 119 live pigs were victims of explosive testing during a period of four years, between 2006 and 2009.6
  • Thousands of other animals have also been the victims of chemical and biological weapon testing at Porton Down,including sheeps, monkeys, and bovines.7
  • In the USA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), conducted a study in 2010 in which pigs and rats where subjected to around 200 explosive blasts.8
  • In an extreme experiment of this kind, in 1946 in the South Pacific 4,000 animals were set adrift on a boat before an atomic blast was detonated above them The animals who were not killed by the blast were badly burned.
  • In one experiment testing Phosgene, many pigs died as a result of severe lung damage by the toxic gas; others were killed once the experiment had been completed simply because they were no longer needed.
  • In other tests pigs are used to study the effects of explosives. One experiment tested explosives on 18 pigs who had tubes inserted into their blood vessels and bladders, their spleens removed, and a wire placed in one of their major blood vessels to make sure they would be lacerated. The pigs were then anesthetized and put near some explosives.After the explosion the pigs were allowed to bleed until they had lost almost a third of their blood to see how long they could be kept alive using medical intervention.9

Experiments to test resistance to physical assaults

In other cases it’s not particular weapons that are tested, but rather the resistance towards certain kinds of physical damage.

  • Rats have been immersed in boiling water for 10 seconds, after which many of them were deliberately infected on parts of their bodies which had been burned.
  • Another experiment involves rats being shaved and covered in ethanol; once saturated, they are “set on fire.”10
  • Rats have also been forced to inhale carbon monoxide until they die.

Rats in other tests were bled for over 15 minutes and then resuscitated. They then either died or were killed within a day.11 Monkeys have also been the target of considerable physical testing as in the following examples:

  • Monkeys who had previously been shocked with electricity to teach them to fly a plane simulator were strapped into a flight simulator and irradiated with gamma rays to see if they could stay alive “for the 10 hours it would take to bomb an imaginary Moscow.” The monkeys who suffered the heaviest doses of gamma rays vomited violently. They were later killed.12
  • Many chemicals are often tested on animals. For example, a nerve agent called soman has been tested in monkeys.13 This chemical causes them violent convulsions and eventually kills them.

Some other animals have endured similar testing with chemicals:

  • Soman has also been given to guinea pigs, who died of respiratory failure as a result of the poison.14
  • Lewsite, a chemical weapon that causes blisters and lung irritation, has been applied to the shaved backs of rabbits causing them to die painfully in about 30 days.
  • The poison gas perfluoroisobutene has been used on rats, causing convulsions.15

Experiments to test resistance to adverse conditions

In another type of experiment, animals are hurt in various ways to see how much they can resist certain kinds of extreme situations:

  • In a series of experiments investigating decompression sickness, goats were put in sealed chambers which were under extreme pressure. These tests continued for 50 years before they were eventually stopped in 2008.16

Experiments to test military surgical techniques

In other cases, animals are harmed to train doctors how to heal humans. Following are some examples:

  • An experiment known as “wound labs” consists of suspending animals who are sometimes conscious and shooting them. They are then used as practice for military surgeons. The New York Times published a story in 2006 in which they were told that in one of these experiments a pig was “shot twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire”.17
  • Another case involved 990 goats whose legs were broken and amputated. This was described as follows: “Instructor Armand Fermin places a tree trimmer over a joint in the leg, closes it, applies pressure and a ‘crack’ echoes inside the dimly lit tent at Fort Sam Houston”.18

Further readings

Barnard, N. D. (1986) Animals in military wound research and training, Washington, D. C.: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Block, E.; Lottenberg, L.; Flint, L.; Jakobsen, J. & Liebnitzky, D. (2002) “Use of a human patient simulator for the advanced trauma life support course”, The American Surgeon, 68, pp. 648-651.

Brook, I.; Elliott, T. B.; Ledney, G. D.; Shoemaker, M. O., & Knudson, G. B. (2004) “Management of postirradiation infection: Lessons learned from animal models”, Military Medicine, 169, pp. 194-197.

Bruner, R. H. (1984) Pathologic findings in laboratory animals exposed to hydrocarbon fuels of military interest (No. AD-A-166343/4/XAB; NMRI-84-76), Bethesda: Naval Medical Research Inst.

Dacre, J. C., & Goldman, M. (1996) “Toxicology and pharmacology of the chemical warfare agent sulfur mustard”, Pharmacological Reviews, 48, pp. 289-326.

Mayorga, M. A. (1994) “Overview of nitrogen dioxide effects on the lung with emphasis on military relevance”, Toxicology, 89, pp. 175-192.

Pandya, A. & Ali, A. (2009) “The role of TraumaMan in the advanced trauma life support course”, Canadian Journal of Surgery, 52, suppl., pp. S3-S19.

Phillips, Y. Y. & Richmond, D. R. (1991) “Primary blast injury and basic research: a brief history”, in Bellamy R. (ed.) Conventional warfare: Ballistic, blast, and burn injuries, Washington, D. C.: Department of the Army, pp. 221-240.

Ritter, E. M. & Bowyer, M. W. (2005) “Simulation for trauma and combat casualty care”, Minimally Invasive Therapy & Allied Technologies, 14, pp. 224-234.


1 Budkie, M. A. (2012) “Military animal research”, Medical Research Modernization Committee [accessed on 6 July 2013].

2 House of Commons of the United Kingdom (2010) “Written answers to questions, 24 Mar. 2010: Column 295W”, Publications and records, UK Parliament, 24 Mar 10 [accessed on 23 October 2011].

3 Knudsen, P. J. & Darre, E. M. (1996) “Training in wound ballistics: Operation exercise at the Defence Medical Training Centre”, Journal of Trauma, 40, suppl. 3, pp. S6-S9. Chivers, C. J. (2006) “Tending a fallen Marine, with skill, prayer and fury”, New York Times, Nov. 2 [accessed on 14 April 2013]. Butler, F. K.; Holcomb, J. B.; Giebner, S. D.; McSwain, N. E. & Bagian, J. (2007) “Tactical combat casualty care 2007: Evolving concepts and battlefield experience”, Military Medicine, 172, suppl. 11, pp. 1-19. Gaarder, C.; Naess, P. A.; Buanes, T. & Pillgram-Larsen, J. (2005) “Advanced surgical trauma care training with a live porcine model”, Injury, 36, pp. 718-724. Gala, S. G.; Goodman, J. R.; Murphy, M. P. & Balsam, M. J. (2012) “Use of animals by NATO countries in military medical training exercises: An international survey”, Military Medicine, 177, pp. 907-910.

4 Winfield, G. (2007) “Stress relief”, CBRNe World, winter [accessed on 14 September 2013].

5 Rawstorne, M. (2010) “Is it really right to blow up pigs even if it saves our soldiers’ lives?”, Daily Mail, 28 May [accessed on 11 December 2012].

6 Brown, R. F. R.; Jugg, B. J. A.; Harban, F. M. J.; Ashley, Z.; Kenward, C. E.; Platt, J.; Hill, A.; Rice P. & Watkins, P. E. (2002) “Pathophysiological responses following phosgene exposure in the anaesthetized pig”, Journal of Applied Toxicology, 22, pp. 263-269.

7 Dury, I. (2010) “MoD blew up 119 live pigs in explosive tests”, Daily Mail, 21 May [accessed on 3 July 2013].

8 Brook, T. V. (2011) “Brain study, animal rights collide: Red flags raised by use of pigs in military blast tests”, USA Today, 28 March.

9 Rawstorne, M. (2010) “Is it really right to blow up pigs even if it saves our soldiers’ lives?”, op. cit.

10 Dai, T.; Kharkwal, G. B.; Tanaka, M.; Huang, Y. Y.; Arce, V. J. B. de & Hamblin, M. R. (2011) “Animal models of external traumatic wound infections”, Virulence, 2, pp. 296-315.

11 Handrigan, M. (2004) “Choice of fluid influences outcome in prolonged hypotensive resuscitation after hemorrhage in awake rats”, Shock, 23, pp. 337-343.

12 Singer, P. (2009 [1975]) Animal liberation, reissue ed., New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, ch. 2.

13 Helden, H. P. van; Wiel, H. J. van der; Lange, J. de; Busker, R. W.; Melchers, B. P. & Wolthuis, O. L. (1992) “Therapeutic efficacy of HI-6 in soman-poisoned marmoset monkeys”, Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 115, pp. 50-56. Raveh, L.; Grauer, E.; Grunwald, J.; Cohen, E. & Ashani, Y. (1997) “The stoichiometry of protection against soman and VX toxicity in monkeys pretreated with human butyrylcholinesterase”, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 145, pp. 43-53.

14 Chang, F. C. T.; Foster, R. E.; Beers, E. T.; Rickett, D. L. & Filbert, M. G. (1990) “Neurophysiological concomitants of soman-induced respiratory depression in awake, behaving guinea pigs”, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 102, pp. 233-250.

15 Romano, J. A., Jr.; Lukey, B. J. & Salem, H. (eds.) (2007) Chemical warfare agents: Chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutics, London: CRC Press.

16 BBC (2008) “UK navy to end goat experiments”, BBC News, 6 February [accessed on 21 November 2012].

17 Christenson, S. (2008) “Goats die so GIs have a chance at living”, San Antonio Express-News, 3 Aug.

18 Some organizations have questioned whether these tests can provide reliable results.