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Could falcons be the latest innovation in drone warfare?

Could falcons be the latest innovation in drone warfare?

Last time we checked in with Pakistan’s falcon population, we reported on the surprising, feel-good story of how the Taliban have saved the fearsome birds in the tribal areas by fueling violence that has scared off poachers. Now there’s a new wrinkle when it comes to the status of falcons in this troubled region.

On Monday, Indian security forces recovered a dead falcon that had been outfitted with a camera and an antenna (see photo above) near the fort city of Jaisalmer. According to Agence France-Presse, the wired bird has spooked Indian military officials, who say that while it may just be the work of hunters, "the possibility of it being an espionage attempt from Pakistan cannot be ruled out at this stage."

So, is Pakistan turning its great falcon glut into a low-tech drone fleet as part of its ongoing confrontation with India? Fueling suspicions in this case is the fact that the bird was recovered in an area used by the Indian military for war games. As recently as April 2012, India massed 50,000 troops in the area for joint exercises between its army and air force. A falcon would seem like the perfect countermeasure, no?

As it happens, this isn’t the first time Indian authorities have insinuated that Pakistan is enlisting avian henchmen to spy on its nemesis to the south. In 2010, Indian authorities placed under armed guard a pigeon suspected of delivering messages across the border. The pigeon, police said, may have been on a "special mission of spying."

Could this also be part of a regional trend of using feathered friends to outwit high-tech aerial defenses? In 2011, Saudi authorities detained a vulture on charges that it was spying on behalf of Israel after learning that it bore a tag reading, "Tel Aviv University." And while officials eventually cleared the bird — named R65, for its identification code —  on charges of espionage, is it too much to hope that, somewhere in the Pakistani hinterlands, an army of falcons-turned-surveillance drones is gathering strength?

Stay safe out there, feathered friends.