DoD Announces First Tranche of Replicator Capabilities for Autonomous Systems

The U.S. Department of Defense has announced the first tranche of capabilities for the Replicator initiative. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the first series of fielded technologies under this innovative program aimed at incorporating commercial technology into defense capabilities. The initiative has commenced with a focus on All-Domain Attritable Autonomous (ADA2) systems.

AeroVironment’s Switchblade 600 UAS, to be fielded at part of the first tranche of DoD Replicator program. Image: AeroVironment.

The initial tranche of the Replicator initiative includes an array of unmanned systems, such as surface vehicles (USV), aerial systems (UAS), and counter-uncrewed aerial systems (c-UAS). In the air domain, the Switchblade-600 loitering munition from AeroVironment Inc. will be accelerated for field deployment. These drones, which have demonstrated their effectiveness in Ukraine, are set to significantly enhance U.S. military capabilities.

This ambitious project has secured a substantial funding provision, with about $500 million allocated for fiscal year 2024, bolstered by the defense appropriations bill and additional funding from Defense-wide sources. The Department has also requested a comparable amount for FY25, underscoring a commitment to harnessing advanced technology for defense applications.

Deputy Secretary Hicks emphasized the transformative nature of the Replicator initiative: “We are taking an important step toward strengthening our defense and technology industrial base,” she stated. “By investing in scalable production for these critical capabilities, we are demonstrating the Department’s ability to break down barriers to scaling innovation at speed, not just for ADA2 systems but across our ability to develop new capabilities and processes for the Department and key stakeholders, including Congress.”

Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, highlighted the strategic importance of these advancements: “The entire Department has come together to help make this a reality, marking a critical step in delivering the capabilities we need, at the scale and speed required, to continue securing a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he remarked.

In the maritime domain, the initiative is expanding the vendor base for USVs through the newly introduced Production-Ready, Inexpensive, Maritime Expeditionary (PRIME) Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO). Launched in January 2024, the PRIME CSO has already received over one hundred proposals from tech companies, setting the stage for multiple contract awards this summer.

Doug Beck, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit, highlighted the collaborative nature of the initiative: “Meeting the strategic imperatives facing the nation requires that we harness the very best of America’s commercial technology alongside our traditional sources of defense capabilities,” he said. “Replicator is doing just that, and that is why we at DIU are proud to work with our partners from across the Department of Defense to make it a reality.”

Admiral Christopher Grady, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, looked to the future of the Replicator initiative: “This is just the beginning. Replicator is helping us jumpstart the delivery of critical capabilities at scale. We will build on that momentum with industry partners to deliver what the warfighter needs, and remove barriers to doing so again and again.”

As the Replicator initiative continues to evolve, its impact on the technological and operational landscape of the U.S. military is expected to be profound, offering new solutions in ADA2 systems and beyond, thus reinforcing the nation’s defense capabilities and strategic preparedness.