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France’s Air Force has found an original method to cope with the risk of drones designed for surveillance or terrorist attack. A group of four eagles is being trained to take out unmanned aircraft in mid-flight at Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France.
The eagles that fly from a control tower towards the suspicious can destroy it in about 20 seconds.
According to gulf-times.com, Mont-de-Marsan is one of five air bases in France to boast a falconry. Usually, the birds of prey are kept to scare birds away from the runway to reduce the risk of accidents during takeoff or landing.
However, with France on alert after a series of Islamist attacks since January 2015, they are now sinking their beaks into national security.
It was actually the police in the Netherlands who came up first with the idea of using raptors to intercept drones, inducting eagles into the service in late 2015. The French army followed suit last year, but it opted for the golden eagle – a natural-born killer with a hooked beak, amber eyes and a wingspan of up to 2.2m. Its excellent eyesight is capable of spotting its target from 2km away. The eagle can reach the speed of 80 kph.
At between 3-5kg it also happens to weigh about the same as most of the drones that could be used for nefarious purposes – or that simply go astray.
Hatched in captivity, the eagles had their food served atop wrecked drones from the age of three weeks. Thanks to this technique, the birds very quickly began to seize remotely piloted aircraft for food. So when drones buzz above, their hunting instinct kicks in.
The birds begin with flights in a straight line, graduating to diving from a height. Soon they will be casting off from peaks in the nearby Pyrenees Mountains.
The initial feedback is positive. “The cost is very low considering the job at hand,” said Commander Laurent, listing strategic sites such as airports, or events such as summits and football tournaments, among those where the eagles could be deployed.
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.
The eagles’ trainer cautions against setting “impossible” tasks for his charges, like launching them against larger drones with potentially deadly propellers.
Commander Laurent agrees that the birds are part of a palette of weapons available to the army in countering the threat from drones – not a fix-all solution. But the air force is already smitten enough to have ordered a second brood of eaglets. The air base expects to welcome four more future aviator eagles by the summer.