VIDEO: The French military trained eagles to take down terrorist drones
Meet D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The names stem from characters in the French novelist Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers," but in the Mont-de-Marsan military base in southwestern France, the four musketeers are of the feathery kind.
The golden eagle quartet, as reported by local media Agence France-Presse, are being trained to detect, hunt, and take down enemy drones in the sky.
After the November 2015 Paris attacks, France is on alert for any other terrorism threats on the horizon. Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used by terrorist factions for surveillance purposes -- or potentially as part of wider attacks such as dropping small bombs on civilian targets -- and the French military wants to keep them away.
This is where the birds of prey come in. The eagles have shown their claws during tests, so far, such as when a drone launched from a runway at the airbase was spotted by D'Artagnan 200 meters away.
In less than 20 seconds, the drone was caught and incapacitated.
The team has been in training since June last year. While military forces often use birds of prey -- such as falcons -- to ward lesser birds off military runways, harnessing the intelligence of the birds has proved to be a novel way to take on modern, technological tools used by threat groups.
According to Commander Christophe, the eagles are "making good progress" and are surpassing projected performance levels by three to four months.
In order to train them to take on drones, the four eagles were trained from the age of three weeks and served their food on top of drone wreckage to create an association between UAVs and food.
Now, every time one of the birds take down a drone, they are rewarded with meat.
Law enforcement in The Netherlands first came up with the idea of using birds of prey to intercept UAVs. Back in November, a Dutch police video revealed a trained eagle plucking a DJI Phantom out of the air.
The police service called the training program a "low-tech solution to a high-tech problem," and in urban areas where civilians are, the birds of prey could take out threats without the need to use weaponry -- which could, in turn, injure innocents.
However, the feathered fighters are not the one-size-fits-all solution. They would not be suitable for use against larger drones or those with hefty, potentially lethal propeller systems, despite the French forces' plans to design leather and Kevlar mittens for them to protect their talons.
Despite limitations, D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis have captured the hearts of the military enough that they will soon be casting off from peaks in the nearby Pyrenees Mountains in the hunt -- and a further four eagle chicks will be joining the ranks by the summer.
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