Russia Wants to Fool Its Enemies by Making Its Drones Look Like Owls

Drones have changed the way humans fight wars. From titanic forces like the U.S. military down to small militias in war zones worldwide, unmanned aerial vehicles have brought invaluable surveillance and attack capabilities to commanders all over the globe.

However, they are no longer a new technology. Counter-drone technology is a fast-growing field, as militaries attempt to outclass each other and gain the edge in the unmanned airspace. Front line troops are on their guard, wary of the damage even hobby-sized drones can wreak.

On Tuesday, Russia unveiled its newest method of countering counter-drone efforts—make the UAV look like an owl.

According to state news agency Tass, a new 11-pound aircraft was unveiled at the Defense Ministry's annual military expo in the outskirts of Moscow. Designed to look like a polar owl in flight, the drone is actually armed with a laser beam to guide artillery and attack aircraft down onto enemy positions.

The drone can be carried by a soldier and only takes one person to launch. The vehicle can then spend up to 40 minutes in the air running reconnaissance missions with a range of just over 12 miles, Interfax explained.

A video from the defense ministry's Zvezda news channel showed the drone rolling across a grassy field on wheels before taking to the skies. Footage from the onboard camera displayed the aircraft's birds-eye view of the terrain below.

The drone's developer told Tass the disguise would allow the aircraft to sneak up on targets without being spotted. Any eagle-eyed observed, though, will be able to spot the gaping hole where an owl's beak should be, and it seems unlikely the drone will fly in the same manner—or with the same silence—as a real bird.

The ministry is also working on another drone that will be disguised as a falcon, Tass reported. This iteration will even be able to imitate the sound of a falcon using a speaker to trick any ornithologists that find their way onto the front line.

Russia is not alone in developing disguised drones—the U.S. is getting in on the act too. The American Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is reportedly working on its own owl spy drones, which will glide silently above unsuspecting enemies collecting vital intelligence.

The $4.8 million contract for the drone project—known as the Great Horned Owl program—has been awarded to Connecticut firm D-Star Engineering. The key element of the program is making the vehicle extremely quiet, which unlike other drones would make it hard for ground forces to locate.

owl, drone, Russia, military, spy
Two policemen walk past a wall with an owl graffiti drawing as they patrol in a street in central Moscow, Russia, on January 12, 2019. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty