Under an ambitious program, dubbed Replicator, the Pentagon aims to field thousands of autonomous systems within two years to counter China. The effort is being spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. Politico reports: Hicks said the time is right to push to rapidly scale up innovative technology. The move comes as the U.S. looks to get creative to deter China in the Indo-Pacific and Pentagon leadership has taken stock of how Ukraine has fended off Russia’s invasion. “Industry is ready. The culture is ready to shift,” Hicks said. “We have to drive that from the top, and we need to give it a hard target.” “The great paradox of military innovation is you’re going to have to make big bets and you’ve got to execute on those bets,” she added.
With Replicator, the Pentagon aims to have thousands of autonomous systems across various domains produced and delivered in 18 to 24 months. Hicks declined to discuss what specific platforms might be produced under the program — such as aerial drones or unmanned ships — citing the “competition landscape” in the defense industry as well as concerns about tipping DOD’s hand to China. The Pentagon will instead “say more as we get to production on capabilities.”
Autonomous weapons are seen as a potential way to counter China’s numerical advantages in ships, missiles and troops in a rapidly narrowing window. Fielding large numbers of cheap, expendable drones, proponents argue, is faster and lower-cost than exquisite weapons systems and puts fewer troops at risk. Another major aim of the Replicator initiative is to provide a template for future efforts to rapidly field military technology. She said lessons from the Replicator program could be applied throughout the Pentagon, military services and combatant commands.