“The eagles are coming.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Is it a case of the cash-strapped French military turning to a cheaper option or is it some kind of quasi-environmental option to train eagles in a counter drone role?
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A ZDnet article explains that the French military turned to eagles to counter the threat of terrorist or insurgent drones, faced by a nation that considers itself almost under siege from terrorist attacks.
D’Artagnon may not have been a full Musketeer, but, trust him, you don’t want none, terrorist drones! Source: Youtube/French military.
At the Mont-de-Marsan military base in southwestern France, the four eagles under training, named after the fictitious four (Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan) heroes of Alexandre Dumas fame, have been undergoing training since June of last year. The article explains that since the November 2015 Paris attacks, France is on high alert for any kind of threat including those from unmanned aerial vehicles or drones feared for their potential to drop small bombs on civilian or even military targets.
In a demonstration at the base one eagle (D’Artagnan) took out an approaching drone at 200 meters in less than 20 seconds, earning himself a food treat. Indeed, food seems to be the key incentive. The young birds are trained from three months of age by serving food on the top of drone wreckage creating an association between UAVs and food, the article explains.
It would seem the French are not alone. Dutch law enforcement officers have also been experimenting with the use of eagles to take out drones. The Dutch police explained the attraction of the birds of prey is that they could takeout drone threats without the need to deploy weaponry which could injure innocents.
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But what about larger drones you may ask? Nevermind those little handheld models available in high street stores or online from hobby shops. Well, the French have a plan. Apparently, they intend to kit out their eagles with leather and kevlar mittens to protect the birds’ talons.
But, you have to ask, what could you reasonably put a 5-kg golden eagle up against before it became unfair competition? Terrorists are unlikely to get their hands on the monsters deployed by major armed forces like the U.S. Army but even category 2 UAVs, like Boeing’s ScanEagle which is used largely for reconnaissance, weigh in at about 20 kg and travel at up to 150km/hr That’s tough opposition for a 5-kg eagle, even if it can match it for top speed and may enjoy Kevlar mitts!