The Air Force Wants To Use Falcons To Punch Drones Out Of The Sky

Gear

What has two wings and doesn’t give a fuck? The peregrine falcon: the fastest member of the animal kingdom, preternaturally terrifying bird of prey… and, now, the natural enemy of unmanned aerial vehicles. The Air Force is into putting falcons to work for the U.S. armed forces —  and new research suggests they’re smart to do so: The peregrine falcon may hold the key to developing anti-drone interceptor systems.


The research, conducted by a group of Air Force-funded researchers at Oxford University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, consisted of letting GPS-outfitted falcons go to pound-town on drone-mounted dummy targets to observe the birds’ interception behaviors. They found that, on the hunt, falcons operate “in a similar way to most guided missiles,” according to Oxford zoologist and chief investigator Graham Taylor.

To wit: The birds follow attack trajectories based on line-of-sight, despite the absence of conventional targeting information on a target's speed or distance. As Bloomberg points out, it would appear that one of nature’s most ruthless hunters subscribes to the same “proportional navigation“ principles as the rotating steering window that defined the earliest iterations of the heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder.

“Our GPS tracks and onboard videos show how peregrine falcons intercept moving targets that don't want to be caught,” Taylor said in an announcement. “Our next step is to apply this research to designing a new kind of visually guided drone, able to remove rogue drones safely from the vicinity of airports, prisons, and other no-fly zones.”

Sure, great, neat: But does this mean that the peregrine’s only future as a fighting falcon is informing the missiles mounted to the side of an actual Fighting Falcon? Probably — but maybe not, according to these brief clips of Oxford’s test falcons rocking the living shit out of their targets:

Why not? The bird of prey has proved a worthy warfighting companion for centuries. The practice of falconry dates back more than 4,000 years to the dawn of modern civilization, with the falcon’s training so critical during the Medieval era that, per Popular Science, various statutes across Europe “mention fines for the theft or killing of someone else's hawk.” Warlords rode into combat on battlefields from England to Mongolia with falcons (and falconers) at their side, until the advent of gunpowder all but banished the raptors from the battlefield.

In recent years, the falcon and other birds of prey have proven attractive countermeasures among law enforcement agencies for swarms of increasingly ubiquitous drones blotting out the skies. In 2016, the Dutch police invited raptor-training company Guard From Above to explore the deployment of majestic birds of prey against potentially dangerous drones.

Related: Watch The World’s Most Majestic Bird Of Prey Lay Waste To A Drone »

It’s not the worst idea: Civilian drones have begun to invade the last untouched enclaves of the animal kingdom; in 2014, the National Park Service banned moron tourists from flying disasters in national parks. And eagles and falcons are increasingly attacking intrusive drones they see as natural threats, with fascinating results:

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OK, yes, falcons aren’t the best UAV countermeasure, especially since the Department of Defense on Aug. 17 deemed conventional gunfire an appropriate response to commercial or private drones that enter the airspace at more than 130 facilities across the country. But base security won’t always be there: Just consider the illegally operated civilian drone that collided with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flown by Fort Bragg soldiers over Staten Island in September.

Despite this, the potential applications of these angry birds to drone warfare are considerable. As the researchers write, the proportional navigation guidance system at play in falcon behavior is “optimized for low flight speeds could find use in small, visually guided drones designed to remove other drones from protected airspace” — perfect medium-range solutions for the rising tide of ISIS suicide drones that have plagued troops downrange in recent months.

But if the Pentagon does decide to deploy badass birds of prey downrange, let’s be real: They better be fucking bald eagles, symbols of American badassery — and don’t even think about naming them “Redwing.”

GIF via Marvel Studios

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NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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