The snowy owl drone is reportedly equipped with a laser beam that enables it to guide artillery and laser-guided bombs.

It had to happen but the idea of changing the shape of a drone to resemble a bird, in this case a snowy owl, which can inflict deadly damage is scary.

Russia has clearly been working on a spy bird drone for a while. At the defence ministry’s annual military expo on the outskirts of Moscow, from a distance, what appeared to be a giant snowy owl hovered below the ceiling.

On closer inspection, as the Moscow Times reported, it was clearly a drone.

The defence ministry’s Zvezda news channel showed the remote-controlled wheeled drone rolling across a grassy field before takeoff. The snowy owl drone is reportedly equipped with a laser beam that enables it to guide artillery and laser-guided bombs that would make President Vladimir Putin a happy man.

The snowy owl drone weighs five kilograms and can be carried and launched by one person, the developers told TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency. It is said to be able to fly for up to 40 minutes and cover distances up to 20 kilometres (12 miles).

When viewed from the ground, the drone’s incognito appearance allows it to approach targets without being noticed, its developer reportedly said.

A second Russian military drone – yet to be unveiled – is a mock falcon, which reportedly makes bird noises.

Making drones look like birds is a concept Russian unmanned aerial systems developers have been trying to design for a while. The Zhukovsky–Gagarin Air Force Academy, for instance, presented an owl-shaped design last year.

“What’s interesting is that Russian designers are thinking creatively about UAV applications,” Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Centre for Naval Analyses, told C4ISRNET at the time, explaining, “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 added. “It can basically ‘hide’ in plain sight.” Up close, it is 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.”

The stated purpose of the design showcased last year was to track tanks and other vehicles, and then direct fire to those positions.

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 fly, move and look like doves for domestic surveillance operations.

Not one to be outshone, the US intelligence community is reportedly developing lightweight owl spy drones of its own, The Sun reported