Drones have a wide range of useful applications, such as delivering packages and helping revive dwindling bee populations, but unfortunately, the unmanned aerial vehicles can also be used for harmful purposes.
Terrorists have been modifying drones to transform them into spying devices and weapons, raising security issues. To combat this, the military of France decided to go with a natural but very efficient solution.
French Military Training Drone-Hunting Eagles
Last year, under the supervision of the French military, four golden eagle chicks hatched on top of drones. The eagles were named d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, drawn from the classic novel "The Three Musketeers," and their mission from the very start was to hunt and destroy drones.
The eagles grew up with drones, chasing the devices across grass and being allowed to peck at their composite bodies. The eagles were rewarded with meat for doing so, and they ate their prizes off the back of the drones they catch.
Earlier this month, the drone-hunting eagles of France were deemed ready. In a demonstration, d'Artagnan swooped in from a military control tower, covering 200 meters in 20 seconds, to catch a drone and take it down to the ground.
"The eagles are making good progress," said a commander of the French air force tasked with modernizing the ancient art of falconry to address a growing threat in the digital age.
"These eagles can spot the drones several thousand meters (yards) away and neutralize them," said French air force general Jean-Christophe Zimmerman in a November 2016 report regarding the eagles.
Why Train Eagles For The Job?
France has been concerned with the threats presented by drones used by terrorists since early 2015, when drones were flown over the country's presidential palace and a restricted military facility. There were no injuries from those incidents, but terrorist attacks, including the Paris massacre, pushed the military to take action.
The French military, inspired by a similar initiative launched by Dutch police wherein they used a trained eagle to knock off a DJI Phantom Drone from the air, decided to train eagles instead of creating weapons that can be shot at drones due to the possibility of civilians being caught in the crossfire. Weapons can lead to disastrous situations if a drone ventures into a crowded spot, but a trained eagle will be able to destroy the drone without risk to people. Eagles are also sneakier to be deployed in sensitive sites such as airports and military bases.
Eagles have been trained for centuries to carry out hunting missions, though previously, those were for other animals. With their speed and powerful talons, they have proven themselves of taking down their targets, and this time, those targets are drones.
While the military has already launched an order for a second batch of trained eagles, there are concerns that the birds might be harmed in their missions. The government, however, said that protection for d'Artagnan and his siblings is being designed, in the form of mittens made out of Kevlar and leather to shield their talons from being damaged by drones.