A training programme has been so successful that the country's air force plans to expand it
Still on heightened alert, France’s security agencies are looking to the skies with growing concern that terrorists will use drones to spy on or even carry out attacks on French soil from the air. And in order to keep France safe, the air force is ready to deploy a fearless foursome of golden eagles to pull the drones out of the sky.
At Mont-de-Marsan airbase, 130km south of Bordeaux, D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, named after characters from Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, have been in training since 2016 to engage with airborne threats.
As one of five airbases in France to have its own falconry, the birds of prey would normally be used to scare birds away from the runway to reduce the potential accidents during aircraft take-off and landing, but are now becoming central figures in France’s ongoing war on religious-extremist terror.
“The results are encouraging,” Commander Christophe told Agence France-Presse, revealing the convocation of eagles is almost four months ahead of schedule. “The eagles are making good progress.”
France is not the first country in the world to consider the potential of raptors (a catchall name for birds of prey including falcons, ospreys, harriers, and eagles) to police the skies, following the lead set by Dutch security forces in late 2015.
The four golden eagles deployed by the French army have a wingspan of 2.2 metres and are able to see a target from as far away as two kilometres. Capable of flying at speeds of up to 80km/h when swooping in on their prey, the birds weigh the same as a drone that could potentially carry out an act of terrorism.
Raised in captivity since they hatched, the eagles have been served food on wrecked drones since they were three weeks old, conditioned to link the broken pieces of flying tech with the reward of pieces of fresh meat. Now, whenever they spot a drone flying overhead, they hunt it down, with their trainers rewarding the successful mission with food.
The French air force says the falcons will soon be redeployed to a launch base in the Pyrenees mountain range, from which they will be keeping the skies clear of suspect drones, many of which have simply escaped the control of innocent enthusiasts.
Like all military personnel, they are equipped with special uniforms, with specially designed mittens made of leather and Kevlar, an anti-ballistic material, made to protect their talons during tours of duty that will see them serve at airports, large-scale events and sporting tournaments.
While considered just another weapon in France’s ever-developing chest, the project has proven so successful that another four eaglets have been ordered to undergo the same training later this year.