The Pentagon has announced a new effort, dubbed "Replicator," aiming to introduce thousands of autonomous systems, such as uncrewed aircraft and underwater drones, within the upcoming two years. This move is in response to China's extensive military advancements, with the U.S. seeking to harness robotic platforms, commercial technologies, and other innovations to counteract this expansion.
During the NDIA Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks shared insights about the program.
“Replicator is meant to help us overcome the [People’s Republic of China]’s biggest advantage, which is mass... We’ll counter the [People’s Liberation Army]’s mass with our own. Our approach will be more agile, benefiting from the expertise of the commercial sector,” Hicks stated.
Hicks is set to lead this high-priority initiative, with support from Adm. Christopher Grady, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Doug Beck, the director of the Defense Innovation Unit located in Silicon Valley. This unit is responsible for fostering collaborations between the Department of Defense and commercial tech entities.
U.S. military divisions have been progressively investing in and experimenting with autonomous systems in multiple domains. Furthermore, the recent conflict in Ukraine has showcased how advanced technologies can complement traditional weaponry. Meanwhile, Hicks acknowledged China's resolute push to develop a modern military designed to counter the U.S.'s longstanding operational advantages.
Highlighting the objectives of the "Replicator" initiative, Hicks mentioned, “We aim to field autonomous systems at a scale of thousands across various domains within the next 18 to 24 months. Our goal is not just production-focused but also to establish a replicable approach to innovation that can be scaled in future endeavors."
While the Pentagon will still rely on larger, more expensive platforms, the "Replicator" is expected to catalyze the adoption of smaller, cost-effective, and numerous platforms. Hicks confirmed that the development of these systems would align with the Department of Defense's ethical guidelines for artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.
Hicks refrained from diving into the finer details regarding the funding and execution of the initiative. “Details about Replicator will be unveiled soon, but we will maintain discretion about the specifics due to strategic considerations,” she remarked during a Q&A session. She also indicated that the Pentagon will join forces with Adm. John Aquilino and other combatant commanders to address operational needs. “This initiative is about consolidating our technological efforts and scaling them effectively,” concluded Hicks.