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EAGLES VS DRONES: A ’natural’ response to the threat of non-state rogue UAVs

Written by Andreas Immanuel Graae, Ph.D. Candidate at Department for the Study of Culture

Last month, when Hillary Clinton arrived at a campaign rally in Chicago a civilian drone buzzed around nearby making the Secret Service agents anxious. Hence, they told Clinton to stay in the car while they questioned the alleged operator of the aircraft. 


Apparently, the agents had their reasons to be cautious. According to a recent report, non-state actors are increasingly employing ‘commercial off-the shelf’ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support combat operations in conflict zones such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Ukraine. So why not in Western countries too?

Simple, affordable and effective
In January, the London-based think tank Remote Control Project warned of the risk of drones used by terrorist as "simple, affordable and effective airborne improvised explosive devices." 
With this new unique and affordable technology for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance, terrorists and other insurgence groups seem able to catch up on asymmetrical warfare. Or, to put it in another way, the prey has left its hide and entered the electronic battlefield. 

Radioactive soil
While we have not yet seen a regular drone terrorist attack in the Western world, UAVs are indeed being used as devices for shady activities in society. Last Friday, February 19, the Danish Prison and Probation Service reported a series of incidents in which drones were used to smuggle drugs, mobile phones, sim cards, etc. into prison areas. 

And last year, the Japanese activist Yasuo Yamamoto landed a drone carrying a container filled with radioactive soil on the roof of the official residence of Japan’s Prime Minister in protest against Japan’s policy on nuclear energy. 

In other words, the risk of major attacks carried out by drones seems imminent. So, how will the West response to this new threat from above? What to do when the all too convenient monopoly of ‘projecting power without vulnerabilities’ suddenly bursts and the technologies of riskless war are turned against the very same states that initiated them?

Eagle training 

Forget about radio jammers, no-fly zones and net-wielding interceptor drones. The answer is, of course – eagles!
In the Netherlands, law enforcement is currently training eagles to catch drones; the birds of prey are simply taught how to grab a drone out of the sky and secure it on the ground.


An eagle takes down a drone

Nature vs. technology
This highly ‘natural’ response to current electronic threats appears somehow ironic. So far, the 21st Century drone warfare has been embedded in ornithological imagery: Predator, Global Hawk, Reaper, Scan Eagle – all birds of prey and angels of death – have finally met their metaphorical ancestors in the ultimate fusion of nature and technology. The absolute sign of a new post-human era of warfare.

Symbolically, the use of eagles to take down rouge drones underlines Barack Obama’s doctrine, ‘to kill rather than capture’. As we know, the American national bird is the Bald eagle. Placed in the top of the food chain, as the king of birds, the eagle manifests its supremacy over all other species.

In this Darwinistic manner, the eagle – materialized in the predator drone – has become emblem of the contemporary cynegetic war which Gregoire Chamayou talks about in his Theory of the Drone. According to Chamayou, the drone “is the mechanical, flying and robotic heir of the dog of war. It creates to perfection the ideal of asymmetry: to be able to kill without being able to be killed; to be able to see without being seen. To become absolutely invulnerable while the other is placed in a state of absolute vulnerability.”

Whether this absolute invulnerability is starting to crackle due to increased use of rouge drones, time will tell. However, it seems that the future battlefields belong to the machines, to the birds of prey and to the insect swarms.

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