US DoD presents the REPLICATOR drone program to compete with China 15/09/2023 | Fabio Di Felice

The Pentagon, through the words of Deputy Defense Secretary, Kathleen Hicks, announced the intention to field thousands of attritable and autonomous systems across multiple domains as part of a new initiative, called the REPLICATOR, to better compete with China.

Further details will be provided in the coming weeks however, as reported by Hicks who will closely follow the program with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Christopher Grady, and Doug Beck, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit, he has anticipated that the program will leverage on drone platforms that are “small, smart, cheap and many”. The program is based on the assumption that China's main goal is mass, having big numbers of every weapon system, so the US Defense response could only be to innovate, rather than match Beijing’s numbers. Using the lessons identified and learned in the war in Ukraine, the US military leadership identified the attritable and autonomous systems as the right innovation answer. Mike Brown, Pentagon DIU director, added more info using the term “hedge strategy” to underline that this innovation will leverage on commercial systems to deliver the capability at scale. The REPLICATOR is intended to pull investments in Artificial Intelligence and from many other projects, with the legislation allocation estimated at $1 billion toward setting up a DIU-managed hedge portfolio made up of low-cost drones, agile communication and computing modes, and AI capabilities. The REPLICATOR project, or strategy, presents the Pentagon with an opportunity to rewrite its process for developing unmanned platforms in the 21st century, as described by Brown, “mastering the technology of tomorrow in all domains.” The term ‘attritable’, used multiple times for describing the new weapons system, in this context, is normally taken to refer to a platform that’s inexpensive enough to be willing to lose on high-risk missions, while being capable enough to be relevant for those missions. Some services also use the term “affordable mass,” on the basis that attritable suggests a greater willingness to actually lose these systems, which might not necessarily be the case in an operational scenario. In line with these new developing concepts, the REPLICATOR project should have platforms that might cost, but, clearly, affordability, rapid iterative development cycles, and the possibility of mass production are the new priorities.

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