SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The Army has proposed multiple drones for the Pentagon’s Replicator initiative, and the service’s acquisition chief thinks the odds are good that at least one of them will get tapped.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks first announced the Replicator effort in August, with the stated goal of delivering thousands of relatively low-cost, “attritable” capabilities in 18 to 24 months to help counter China’s military buildup. In December, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is expected to choose from a list of platforms proposed by the services and other DOD components for the initial tranche.
Replicator isn’t a program of record but rather an effort to give a boost to technologies that are already in the works so they can be fielded faster in larger quantities than they would otherwise if they weren’t given special attention.
“First of all, it’s exciting,” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush said in an interview with DefenseScoop at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “The idea of the whole DOD, you know, needing to push the envelope and go faster on unmanned capability, I think is a good thing. Replicator is part of that. So yeah, the Army nominated several systems. And the process now is working through on picking.”
Specifically, the Army proposed unmanned aerial systems for the initiative, Bush acknowledged. However, he declined to identify the drones, and Hicks has called for secrecy about some aspects of Replicator.
“I can’t [say which group of UAS they are part of], OK. But [they’re] not super small. So, I think, more focused on things with a bit longer range, with a bit more punch than like, you know, a very small quadcopter. So, bigger than that,” Bush told DefenseScoop.
When asked if the platforms might be loitering munitions — also known as kamikaze drones or one-way UAS because the systems are designed to destroy their targets by crashing into them with a warhead — he said: “Bigger than a quadcopter, yes.”
OSD is expected to make its selections for the initial tranche of Replicator this month.
“They’re gonna do it in iterations here. But for the first tranche, you know, I think there’s a good chance there will be an Army one in there, that hopefully with additional funding it’s something we can go fast with. So the perspective I took was, the … deputy secretary certainly seems to want things that we can get into production and scale up quickly. So, we have some mature systems that we thought fit the bill. But the other services nominated things, too. So, you know, it will be up to OSD to pick,” Bush said.
However, the public might not find out soon which Army systems or other platforms proposed by the services were selected.
“I would not necessarily say the candidates will be announced,” Hicks told reporters during a Defense Writers Group meeting last month. “We’re being very careful, as you know, about the way in which we talk about Replicator. Our goal here is an operational goal, which is in addition to the acquisition cycle, and that operational goal is to create dilemmas for China and any other competitor who might look at this approach and try to undermine it. So, we will be very clear and transparent with Congress. I’ve talked to Congress in classified sessions on this. But how we choose to speak about it, in terms of the particular programs or projects that we’ll be accelerating through Replicator is to be determined.”