With loitering munitions reportedly in the running for accelerated mass production, the Army’s top weapons buyer expressed hope that lawmakers will sign off on the Pentagon’s reprogramming request for the Replicator unmanned systems initiative.
Sources who spoke to DefenseScoop on the condition of anonymity last week said Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones made Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks’ cut for the loitering munitions capability set, via the Army’s Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) program.
Switchblade 600s, built by AeroVironment, are designed to destroy armored vehicles and other targets. They have a 24-mile range, 40 minutes of loitering endurance and the ability to fly at speeds of up to 115 miles per hour, according to a product description on the manufacturer’s website.
The Pentagon submitted a spending plan and reprogramming requests to Congress on Jan. 31 for the Replicator initiative, which would allow the Department of Defense to ramp up and accelerate production for selected capabilities.
The DOD’s stated goal for the first increment is to counter China’s military buildup by fielding thousands of attritable “autonomous” systems in multiple domains by August 2025.
“The Army’s involved [in Replicator]. I am not in a position to be able to talk in detail. A lot of the details are classified. I think the reports though about Congress getting a reprogramming [request] — that’s true. So, Congress will need to support this effort. And hopefully we’ll make our case and they will be supportive. I think the Army put forward several good ideas, but so did the other services … And the department has been choosing among them,” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush said during a roundtable Monday hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I’m always excited about anything we can do to go faster on new technology. And if Congress supports it, I think this could become a good thing that happens on a cycle, where it gives us … a way to kind of between appropriations bills, move faster on critical new tech,” he said.
During an interview with DefenseScoop in December, Bush acknowledged that the Army proposed unmanned aerial systems for the initiative. However, he declined to identify the drones.
“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.
The Pentagon has been tight-lipped about which capability sets and specific systems have been selected for Replicator. Hicks has noted her desire to keep certain details out of the public eye in order to avoid tipping off China or other potential 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 last week after being asked to confirm the Switchblade 600 selection.
Pahon also declined to provide specifics regarding how much funding might be reprogrammed through Replicator for loitering munitions this year.