The Pentagon is gearing up to accelerate the deployment of autonomous systems under its new Replicator initiative. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks recently disclosed plans to select programs and systems for fast-tracking, aiming to address rising challenges posed by China's military buildup. This initiative, announced in August, targets delivering “attritible” capabilities to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command within 18 to 24 months.
According to DefenseScoop, the Replicator isn't a traditional program of record but an endeavor to expedite technologies already in the pipeline for quicker fielding in larger quantities. The initiative will focus on removing bureaucratic barriers and addressing manufacturing, software design, and requirements process risks. Hicks and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will oversee this process, which is expected to significantly reduce the time taken to field these systems.
Cost-effectiveness is a crucial criterion for the Replicator candidates. Unlike more expensive unmanned platforms like the Air Force’s collaborative combat aircraft (CCA), the initiative will concentrate on more affordable systems costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit, rather than millions. This strategic focus will emphasize smaller, less expensive autonomous systems.
The Replicator initiative will span across “all domains,” exploring options beyond unmanned aerial vehicles. For its initial phase, the Department of Defense (DOD) will utilize already allocated funds from the fiscal 2023 budget and items included in the fiscal 2024 budget request. The goal is to identify programs facing potential barriers that could delay delivery and find ways to either accelerate their timelines or scale them up.
Looking ahead to the fiscal 2025 DOD budget, new funding may be requested to support further development under the Replicator initiative, including a possible second tranche of systems. Hicks indicated that while the total budget for the Replicator is yet to be finalized, it’s expected to be less than 0.5% of the defense budget but with a significant impact on the battlefield.
This strategic move by the Pentagon highlights the increasing importance of rapidly advancing technology to maintain a competitive edge in modern warfare. By focusing on scalable, cost-effective solutions, the DOD aims to ensure that the U.S. military remains at the forefront of autonomous systems development and deployment.