Replicator, the Pentagon’s effort to buy and field thousands of drones by next August, is closer than ever to its first round of funding.

Congress just released the final text of its long-delayed fiscal year 2024 Pentagon spending bill. In it, the Replicator program would get $200 million.

The number is less than half of the $500 million Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks predicted earlier this month for her trademark program, which is focused on countering China. But it would square with the amount requested in a reprogramming package sent to Congress in early February. That request, in which the Pentagon asks lawmakers to allow it to move money around for new priorities, was reportedly $300 million.

This would be a two-track funding approach, somewhat in line with Hicks’ comments at an event hosted by the Ronald Reagan Institute this Wednesday. Hicks framed appropriations and reprogramming as two paths, but only “alternative” ones and not intended to work together.

“We need one of those two pathways to move forward,” she said, noting further funding for Replicator — $500 million — is already written into the Pentagon’s FY25 budget request.

At the same event, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said that the first systems bought in Replicator mainly come from his service. Multiple outlets reported earlier this year that the AeroVironment Switchblade 600 is among those.

Some in Congress are still frustrated at the lack of transparency from the Pentagon on the initiative. One Senate aide, speaking to Defense News on the condition of anonymity, said that Pentagon officials briefed on Replicator earlier this month, mentioning specific systems for the first time.

“That’ll have to get better over the next six to eight months,” the aide said. “We need to get more into the details.”

The new bill addresses this shortage. It would require Hicks to brief lawmakers within 60 days of its passage. That briefing would need information on how much funding Replicator will require through the rest of the decade, how its systems will be sustained and how the Pentagon plans to use them.

In addition, the bill mandates a report within 90 days that would show how the Pentagon is leaning on commercial-style technology, examples of Replicator-type systems from each service and instances when such systems have become programs of record. This report will be unclassified but contain a classified portion.

The budget introduced this week arrives halfway through the fiscal year. If passed, the Pentagon will have just six months to spend it, potentially risking some money not being obligated after the crash effort.

“It’s a show me culture,” Hicks said of Pentagon innovation. “Show me you’ll put your reputation on the line to make change happen, and then maybe it’ll make change happen.”

This story has been updated with further details from the legislation and comments from a Congressional aide.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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