Replicator Program Will Scale Up to Thousands of Smart AI Combat Drones Within 24 Months

The US
military announced the Replicator
initiative as the latest effort to overcome the production valley of death to speed up and make thousands of all-domain attritable autonomous systems. This will organize dozens of small programs into a focused small drone and combat AI effort.

Currently, small kamikaze drones with 10-40 kilometer range (like the Switchback 600) cost about $60000 through normal DOD procurement. However, the Ukrainian military can just use off the shelf $700 commercial drones and stick some explosives in them.

The Replicator program will take AI chips and military AI software and put them into commercial drones. The commercial drone suppliers will make drones to military specifications which will be able integrate with the military AI software. The goal is to make thousands within 18-24 months. This should get close to the off the shelf commercial price. The goal is likely a $3000-6000 drone with an AI kit. This would be 5-10% of the cost of regular Switchback like drones and maybe five times the price of an off the shelf drone.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that turns unguided bombs into precision-guided weapons. The basic JDAM kit costs an average of just over $24,000. The JDAM kit is made by Boeing. The JDAM kit can add wings that open after the bomb is dropped, allowing it to fly more than 40 miles to a target.

This will mean that the US military will keep their $1 billion per year AI research and then have a range of outsourced suppliers that make a lot of relatively standard drones. If the military bought $450 million worth of drones each year at $4500 each then they could get 100,000 such drones. It would put combat drones into a similar mark up as military bullets and grenades.

Replicator will use existing funding, existing programming lines, and existing authorities to accelerate production and delivery at scale — by exerting leadership focus and attention on a singular operational challenge and maturing solutions, because that’s what ultimately delivers.

2 thoughts on “Replicator Program Will Scale Up to Thousands of Smart AI Combat Drones Within 24 Months”

  1. I see that the authors (and who knows, the US military too?) have ‘gone Metric’. km/h and kilometers. Fair enough, I guess. Sure makes ‘the numbers’ look bigger. 112 km/h (÷ 1.61) → 70 mph. Oh, how about that! A round number in non-metric! Hehehe.

    Still, 40 km (÷ 1.61) → 25 mile range. Smaller numbers.
    Not as price-tag impressive, you know?

    Also … yah, sure, there’s a picture there about quadracopters to satisfy the hobbyist crowd, but have you noticed that basically ALL the drones are fully winged flyers? I’ve been noticing this for quite awhile now. Wings rock. Flying rocks, don’t rock. Go figure.

    Certainly Physics (with a capital P) has something to say about it. Namely, the lift generated from a static wing can far exceed that of a rotor-craft (read “like a helicopter, no matter how many lifter props it has”), per unit power fed into its powertrain. Its in the math.

    Quadracopters have the aeronautical streamlining of prickly bricks. They’re awesome of course at hovering, or rather gently wandering around in any axis, again at modest speed. Unparalleled. Winged flyers have to zip about at higher speeds to get the lift needed to stay afloat. And keep moving. In circles, to accomplish ‘loitering’.

    But again, “mission realities” seem to favor the winged aircraft drones. If one’s expected targets are 20 miles away, AND we hope to get ‘there’ before ‘they’ wander off and can’t be found, AND we hope to drop a nice big bomb in the middle of their tea party, AND we want to get back the drone, AND all this need be carried by a couple of grunts with backpacks … well, there’s your design criteria.

    Wings and single props get you ‘the miles’ of range fairly easily. And once underway, wings are also pretty darn good at lofting a BUNCH of kilograms of exploding nastiness. AND, freed of the payload (and much of the jet fuel), the now much-lightened craft, at much lower speed, might fairly easily ‘drift back’ on some contorted path at low altitude, and thus be recovered. Much less expensive than committing technological Auto Da Fe (kamikaze style).

    Return, be scooped up, WD–40 squirted into all the maintenance ports, new bomb(s) loaded, refueled, and back into service again. Here grunts!

    Simultaneous to the above, I have also been struck by the rather jaw-dropping range of capabilities of the ‘drones’ in such News announcements. Everything from balsa-and-duct-tape under-a-kilobuck throw-aways to multi-million dollar, supersonic demons. Stealth enabled, multi-bomb, hundreds-to-thousands of miles of range and return, pure evil.

    Well … for sure … each branch of the Military has its own mission profile and scale requirements.

    Marines, “MANPAD” for stuff launchable by roving squads of tough guys.

    The Navy, by way of steampunk launchers and ‘wing-drones’ to accompany their fast naval aircraft.

    The Air Force with its appetite for billion-dollar WOW aircraft, no matter how ridiculous in practice they might be. Funny, since unlike the Navy, their launch bases are stuck to particular GPS coördinates on paper maps.

    The Army of course likes squads, platoons and companies of things. Massive ordinance which can be wheeled, tracktored, lugged or pulled about the ‘battlefield’ as anachronistic of a term as it is. Remember, they’re also fond of field artillery and tanks, both of which shoot rather large and heavy shells at The Enemy from not-too-afar.

    Still, thanks to our Fearless Leader Mr. Brian Wang, we can rest assured that the military-industrial complex is busily ginning up the next and next-next generations of potent drones … to festoon their munitions dumps … under Black Ops secret-squirrel programs right under the RADAR (bad pun) of Congress. To be given away like hot pancakes to any and all Ukrainian-like conflicts leaders. For democracy (uncapitalized!), you know. Sterling example of ideology driving industry.

    Peace on, fellow ruminants.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  2. Where do those Australian waxed cardboard drones shipped in flatpacks fit into this picture? I figure that someone could come up with cheaper avionics using a Raspberry Pi to get the price well below the multi-thousand dollar price the Aussies are charging.

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