We recently entered an office of a senior Navy Admiral who had a sign posted:
“No drone talk here.”
One good reason might be the wide variety of threats to operating drones, including this one, namely a Norwegian Eagle, the bird, not a code name for a plane.
The Norwegian Army drone pilot was oblivious to the forthcoming drama designated to unfold approximately an hour after his Raven mini-UAV was launched. It took less than 60 minutes from takeoff until the drone came under attack from an unlikely assailant.
Their task is normally to ensure and sustain the situational awareness in the Armoured Battalion of Brigade North. Sunday 6 March turned out to become an extraordinary day for the experienced drone pilots.
“We were cruising steadily and conducting surveillance on Swedish main battle tanks in our area. Suddenly an eagle appeared, and I witnessed a spectacular situation unfold,” Håkon said.
He is one of the drone pilots in Brigade North, and he is assigned to the Cavalry Squadron of the Armoured Battalion (1Btn/Brigade North).
DRAMA AT 1,500 FEET
Together with the Norwegian brigade and 11,000 other allied and partnering soldiers, the pilots are participating in the biannual winter exercise Cold Response.
The exercise is an invitational exercise in the central Norwegian region of Trøndelag.
“We were floating in the up drifting wind and hardly running at any engine power, when out of the blue a large eagle came less than eight meters from the drone. At first we did not understand it, but the eagle launched an attack on the drone,” Håkon explains.
The Raven drone has an automatic return-to-base function, and the pilot was desperately trying to override the function and manually return the aircraft to its point of origin.
– At first we thought it was returning to base. However, during the attack it damaged its wing and thus it crashed, Håkon says.
Shortly after the crash, Norwegian soldiers recovered it and it became apparent that the assailant had left clear traces on the aircraft — there were scratches from the eagle’s claws on the wing.
NEVER HEARD OF ANYTHING LIKE THIS BEFORE
The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that are used by all CABs in Brigade North are of the type RQ-11 Raven. This is a small hand-launched and remotely controlled miniature UAV, specifically designed to support ground units with information about the situation in a designated target area.
It is an effective tool to foster speed and agility in modern combined arms manoeuvre operations.
“I have never heard of anything like this in Norway, but Dutch police ostensibly train eagles to take out small drones.
Perhaps this was a Swedish counter-drone eagle,”Håkon laughs.
Published March 8, 2016
No matter how many regulations are put in place, drones are cheap enough now that frequent misuse is becoming the norm.
There’s no good way of dealing with a dangerous drone: you can jam its radios to force it to autoland, or maybe try using an even bigger drone to capture it inside a giant net.
In either of these cases, however, you run the risk of having the drone go completely out of control, which is even more dangerous.
Or, you can be like the Dutch National Police, and train eagles to take down drones for you.
The video, as you probably noticed, is in Dutch, but here’s what I’ve been able to piece together: the Dutch police (like police everywhere) know that drones are going to become even more of a problem than they already are, so they’ve been testing ways of dealing with a drone in an emergency, like if a drone is preventing an air ambulance from landing.
The police are looking into electronic solutions, but also physical ones, including both nets and trained eagles.
The Dutch police have partnered with Guard From Above, a raptor training company based in The Hague, to determine whether eagles could be used as intelligent, adaptive anti-drone weapon systems.
The eagles are specially trained to identify and capture drones, although from the way most birds of prey react to drones, my guess is that not a lot of training was necessary.
After snatching the drone out of the sky, the eagles instinctively find a safe area away from people to land and try take a couple confused bites out of their mechanical prey before their handlers can reward them with something a little less plastic-y.
The advantage here is that with the eagles, you don’t have to worry about the drone taking off out of control or falling on people, since the birds are very good at mid-air intercepts as well as bringing the drone to the ground without endangering anyone.