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.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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