Russia’s new drone looks like a snowy owl, and it has a deadly purpose

A snowy owl. Photo by Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Russia unveiled a combat surveillance drone that looks like a really tired snowy owl at an annual military expo in Moscow, The Moscow Times reported on Tuesday.
  • The unmanned aerial vehicle, designed to be difficult to detect, could track enemy assets and is reportedly equipped with a laser that gives it the ability to direct Russian fire to specific positions.
  • Several countries have been experimenting with biomimetic drone designs in recent years because of their unique ability to hide in plain sight.
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Russia has developed a new combat surveillance drone disguised as a bird of prey – in this case, an owl – The Moscow Times reported on Tuesday.

The drone, which resembles a snowy owl choking on a mouthful of electronic equipment, appeared at the defence ministry’s annual military expo. The unmanned aerial vehicle has a laser that gives it the ability to guide artillery and aircraft, The Times said, citing the ministry’s TV channel.

Weighing only 5 kilograms, it can be carried and launched by one person, the developers told TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency. The company has also developed a falcon drone.

The owl drone is said to be able to fly for up to 40 minutes and cover distances up to 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles.

Creating drones that look like birds is a concept that Russian developers of unmanned aerial systems have been looking at closely for a while. The Zhukovsky-Gagarin Air Force Academy, for instance, last year presented an owl-shaped drone designed to track tanks and other vehicles and then direct fire to them.

“What’s interesting is that Russian designers are thinking creatively about UAV applications,” Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, told C4ISRNET at the time, adding that “biomimicry allows UAVs to operate in areas where a ‘regular’-looking UAV would have been sighted and eliminated.”

“In Russia’s part of Eurasia where hunting birds like owls, falcons, and eagles are very common, a UAV that looks like a bird can become an invaluable ISR asset,” he said. “It can basically ‘hide’ in plain sight.”

Up close, it’s easy to see that the drone is, in fact, a machine. But at a distance, it becomes much harder to tell it apart from a bird in flight.

Drones with biomimetic designs, while strange, are not all that new.

A few years ago, a crude drone resembling a bird and believed to be the property of the Somali government crashed in Mogadishu. Robotic birds have been tested in Canada to scare birds away from airports. And China has designed recon drones that look, move, and fly like doves for domestic surveillance operations.