France — Ideas on how to combat drones are getting more interesting by the day. On Monday, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that since 2016, the French Air Force has been training eagles to rip drones straight out of the sky. From that report:
Faced with the risk of drones being used to snoop or carry out attacks on French soil, the air force is showing its claws.
At Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France a quartet of fearsome golden eagles is being trained to take out unmanned aircraft in mid-flight.
The strategy of using raptors to fight drones — which VICE News on Wednesday called “the most badass plan ever” — was first introduced by police in the Netherlands in 2015. The French military liked the idea, and by 2016 had launched a two-year pilot program of its own.
For its test subject, the French selected the golden eagle, a predator that can spot a target from over a mile away and has a wingspan of up to seven feet. Four golden eagle babies were hatched in captivity and then, from the age of three weeks, were served food atop the wreckage of drones.
This linked the idea of destroyed drones to food in the mind of the birds, and the raptors very quickly started tearing them from the sky. And after each successful kill, trainers would reward the eagles with hunks of meat.
“The results are encouraging,” a commander in the French military told the press. “The eagles are making good progress.”
The birds are all named for the protagonists in Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers — Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan. And recently, D’Artagnan proved just how successful the program really is.
At a demonstration in Mont-de-Marsan, a drone was sent into the air, and the predator — which was released from a control tower 200 yards away — intercepted the machine and had it pinned to the ground in 20 seconds.
A natural concern is that metal rotor blades on drones could do serious damage to a flesh and blood creature attacking it. But as AFP notes, it’s a concern the French have already considered:
To prevent the birds from harming themselves on the job, the military is designing mittens of leather and Kevlar, an anti-blast material, to protect their talons.
Still, falconer Gerald Machoukow, who works with the drone-killing raptors, warns that this strategy shouldn’t be viewed as a catch-all solution to the ever-increasingly complex issue of unmanned aerial vehicles.
“I love these birds,” he said. “I don’t want to send them to their death.”
By all accounts, however, the program has thus far been a success. It’s been so successful, in fact, that the air force has already ordered a second brood of eaglets — despite the fact that the first progress report for the two-year pilot program isn’t due until June.