AeroVironment’s Switchblade 600 on display at LANPAC 2024 in Hawaii, May 15, 2024.

AeroVironment’s Switchblade 600 on display at LANPAC 2024 in Hawaii, May 15, 2024. Defense One / Jennifer Hlad

First Replicator drones already in Indo-Pacific, DOD says

It’s a first for “warfighter-centric innovation,” says deputy defense secretary.

The Pentagon’s flagship program to quickly produce large numbers of low-cost, highly autonomous drones is “producing real results,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a statement Thursday, noting that “the delivery of Replicator systems to the warfighter began earlier this month.”

The aim of the Replicator program, announced in August 2023, is to deliver tens of thousands of low-cost land, air, and sea drones to operators in the Pacific by the end of 2025. Each of the services are expected to play a role in testing, acquiring, and deploying them. The hope, in part, is that the rapid fielding of wide numbers of networked drones could help deter Chinese aggression in the Pacific prior to 2027, when many anticipate China could make a military move to annex Taiwan. The program could also enable the department to move toward new, much more rapid acquisition models.

The Pentagon would not specify which drones exactly have already reached INDOPACOM, and has been cagey in general in discussing the program. In May, it announced it had selected AeroVironment’s (AV) Switchblade 600 for the program, a system that INDOPACOM already has in some number. But “the first tranche of Replicator also includes certain capabilities that remain classified, including others in the maritime domain and some in the counter-UAS portfolio,” the Pentagon said earlier this month. 

The Pentagon plans to spend about half a billion dollars on the effort this fiscal year, and there’s another half billion or so in the 2025 budget request. 

Said Hicks on Thursday: “This shows that warfighter-centric innovation is not only possible; it’s producing real results. Even as we deliver systems, our end-to-end capability development process continues.”