In-Flight Fight: Eagles Used to Take Down Drones

The use of animals in combat is not a novel concept. Horses, pigeons, and dogs have have worked in fields of transport, delivery, and detection for centuries. However, times have changed and so have the tactics of war. As the illegal use of aerial drones increases, The Netherlands, France, and now Russia are using eagles to provide a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.

Eagle training to capture a drone

Eagle training to capture a drone. Photo Source: Wiki Commons.

Three years ago, strategists in The Netherlands were searching for a safe, inexpensive, and effective way to attack aerial drones. The answer came in 2015 when the Dutch National Police Agency recruited four bald eagles to take on the trouble in the sky. It took almost a full year of daily training to teach the eagles to locate illegal drones, approach them safely, and dismantle them.  But by the end of 2016, they succeeded and word of their success traveled through Europe.

The French air force has enlisted eagles to bring down remote-controlled drones when they stray into unauthorized airspace. According to the Washington Post, the French have been concerned with terrorist-modified aircrafts since early 2015, when drones flew over the presidential palace and a restricted military site.  Drones— which can be bought from toy stores and packed with explosives— have been seen as a potential threat to residents and military landmarks following the 2015 terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 130 civilians.  In the wrong hands, drones can be extremely dangerous.

In 2016, French trainer watched as four golden eagles— named d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, after heroes from The Three Musketeers— hatched on top of a drone. From the second they broke free of their shells, the birds were raised  to interact with their nemeses. The qualities that assist wild eagles in catching their prey —flight speeds of up to 80 miles per hour and razor-sharp talons— make them ideal candidates for aerial combat. When ready to fly, trainers incentivize the eagles to take down the drones by rewarding them with meat— which they ate off the backs of the drones.   Nearly a year and a half into the program, d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are full grown and weighing in at around 11 pounds. In the hopes that they continue to fight against machines,  the eagles have been outfitted with high technology equipment to protect them from drone blades and explosives.

Recently, it has been reported that like France and The Netherland’s, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has his own flock of specially trained birds guarding his official residence in the Kremlin from intrusive drones.

Golden eagle from Hungary (budakeszi). Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

Golden eagle from Hungary (budakeszi). Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

Animals In Combat

Horses

Before armored vehicles and B42 bombers, soldiers rode into battle on horseback.  Though horses were used to pull chariots into battle as early as 1500 BC, the earliest evidence of fighting on horseback can be traced to Eurasia some 5,000 years ago. Prior to being replaced by tank technology during World War I, horses were the primary mode of wartime transportation.

Pigeons

Throughout the first and second World Wars, homing pigeons were employed to carry messages between generals and officers. Their job was anything but easy as nearby enemy soldiers often tried to shoot down pigeons and prevent important messages from being received. The use of carrier pigeons was fazed out in 1957.

Dogs

Dogs have been helping civilizations fight wars since ancient times. Greek and Roman warriors once strapped spiked armor to their canines and sent them to attack their enemies. Today, trained dogs work with police and military forces to sniff out drugs and explosive devices.

Comical photo of a dog dressed in battle armor. Note: this is not a real battle dog.

Comical photo of a dog dressed in battle armor. Note: this is not a real battle dog.

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