Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones are among the first set of systems Pentagon leadership and Congress are evaluating to be mass produced and rapidly scaled through the ambitious new Replicator initiative, multiple sources told DefenseScoop this week.
The DOD’s stated goal of Replicator is to counter China’s massive, ongoing military buildup by fielding thousands of attritable autonomous systems in multiple domains by August 2025. Replicator selections for to-be-fielded products will be made across roughly 10 technology portfolios or sets and announced in various tranches, with the first encompassing more “mature” capabilities that have already been proven within U.S. military components.
The Pentagon recently revealed that a small number of capabilities were chosen last month to be prioritized for the initial Replicator tranche — but officials would not identify them. In December, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush had previously suggested to DefenseScoop that the service nominated several drone systems for the initiative.
Sources who spoke to DefenseScoop on the condition of anonymity this week said AeroVironment-built Switchblade 600 attack drones made Hicks’ cut for the Replicator loitering munitions capability set, via the Army’s Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) program.
With a 24-mile range, 40 minutes of loitering endurance and the ability to fly at speeds of up to 115 miles per hour, Switchblade 600s are built to destroy armored vehicles and other targets in multi-domain military operations.
Since Replicator was unveiled by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks in August, she and officials across the Defense Department have been tight-lipped about certain aspects of how the initiative is really coming together, pointing to a need for secrecy so as not to tip off adversaries.
“The deputy secretary selected capability areas in December. The military departments then identified specific systems and associated acquisition strategies to meet those capability needs. The department recently notified our congressional committees of jurisdiction of those system requests, on plan with Replicator’s established timeline. We have no further details to provide on individual systems at this time,” Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon told DefenseScoop on Friday after being asked to confirm the Switchblade 600 selection.
Pahon also declined to provide specifics regarding how many millions in funding might be reprogrammed through Replicator for the loitering munitions in 2024.
“We submitted a spend plan and reprogramming requests to Congress [on Jan. 31]. We hope they will act quickly, which will allow us to ramp up and accelerate production on Replicator capabilities. We aren’t able to provide specifics on the reprogramming request at this time,” he said.
Notably, loitering munitions are just one of multiple different capability areas that DOD seeks to accelerate with Replicator.
During a press briefing with reporters in November, Hicks said “the idea that this is all about sort of kinetic swarms I think is very misleading.”
“I don’t think ‘kamikaze drone’ is the right way to think about it. You need to think, again, well beyond the kinetic side of this into the ability to deliver logistics, command and control, ISR, if you will, and again, multiple domains,” she said.
In response to DefenseScoop’s questions, Pahon would not detail the other Replicator capability sets that Hicks’ team approved. He also hinted that more selections and considerations for loitering munitions may be made in the near term.
“The department is constantly seeking opportunities to bring in new vendors across a multitude of capability areas. This is reflective of [the Defense Innovation Unit’s] core mission to engage emerging technology providers through the commercial solutions offering process. We have no further details to provide on individual systems at this time,” he said.