WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army could contribute one-way attack drones and ground-based robotics to the Pentagon’s nascent Replicator initiative, which aims to deploy autonomous systems en masse to counter Chinese stockpiles.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks rolled out the venture in August, calling for thousands of attritable systems in the field in the next 18 to 24 months. Details have been scant regarding sourcing and validation of the systems as well as how the U.S. will dispatch them so quickly.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth on Oct. 9 said the service has “a number of areas that would be right for Replicator,” including UAVs “of all sizes.” The service is in close coordination with the defense secretary’s office.

“Obviously UAVs, both using them as sensors and as deliverers of payloads, and also defending against them, are key on the battlefield,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington. “Some of the loitering munitions that we have could be candidates for Replicator. And then, finally, perhaps some of our ground robots.”

The U.S. military and its private industry suppliers are embracing unmanned and autonomous technologies amid preparations for a potential war with Russia and China. A fight with either power would likely cover vast distances and be flooded with precision sensors, powerful jammers and long-range weaponry.

Drones and other robots, officials say, can extend spying, targeting and logistics while also reducing human risk and workload. Exhibits at AUSA this week were dotted with uncrewed equipment, from Anduril Industries’ target-ramming Anvil to the rugged Textron Systems Ripsaw robot.

“Replicator, that’s a very new initiative,” Wormuth said. “We’re still exploring how the Army can fit into that.”

The Replicator undertaking is made possible by a reorganization of existing funds. It is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Defense News previously reported.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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