The Defense Department is currently making significant progress in accelerating the delivery of innovative capabilities to the warfighter as part of the recently announced Replicator initiative, senior officials with the Defense Innovation Unit said today.
Speaking from the DIU campus in Mountain View, California, DIU Director Doug Beck said officials from across the department have been keenly focused on aligning capabilities with operational needs as DOD moves forward with the first iteration of Replicator.
“This is a whole-of-department effort,” Beck said, adding that capturing input from across the services and combatant commands is critical to ensuring the department delivers capabilities that meet the objective Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks identified as part of the effort.
“That whole-of-department team must be central and is central to that process from the beginning and will have to be throughout so that we can both deliver that capability and also build the new muscle to do this well,” he said.
Hicks unveiled the Replicator initiative in August.
The first iteration of the initiative is focused on fielding thousands of autonomous systems across multiple domains within the next 18-to-24 months, as part of the Pentagon’s strategy to counter China’s rapid armed forces buildup.
Hicks said the Replicator initiative will prioritize the fielding of “attritable” capabilities — platforms that are unmanned and built affordably, allowing commanders to tolerate a higher degree of risk in employing them.
Through the initiative, the U.S. will augment its manufacturing and mobilization capabilities “with our real comparative advantage, which is the innovation and spirit of our people,” she said.
DIU, the department’s premier organization for accelerating the adoption of commercial technology throughout the military, has played a central role in making Replicator a reality.
DOD has recently established the Deputy’s Innovation Steering Group to bring together leaders from across the department to break down systemic barriers that impede innovation.
Beck chairs the Defense Innovation Working Group aligned with the steering group and is charged with driving the process to accelerate technology and to make the process repeatable.
“Our role here at DIU is to catalyze that process and also, of course, to help more directly in ways that DIU is built to do, to accelerate the leverage of commercial tech at the speed of innovation into that process,” Beck said.
Aditi Kumar, DIU’s deputy director of strategy, policy and national security partnerships, said that since Replicator was formally announced, the steering group has focused on crisply defining the warfighters’ needs.
“In doing that, we worked very closely with [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] to define exactly what the operational needs are in theater so that everything that we’re delivering with this first instantiation of Replicator is relevant to the warfighter,” she said. “In so doing, we have also pulled in lessons learned from other combatant commands, including lessons learned in the [U.S. European Command] theater.”
Kumar said the department is now in the process of looking across its portfolio to identify capabilities that meet those needs that can be considered as part of the Replicator initiative.
“One of the reasons that DIU is in this role is [that] in addition to looking at the programs already in the department’s pipeline that fit the mission need, we’re obviously also looking at the gaps,” she said. “Those gaps may be by domain area, they may be in enabling infrastructure, they may be very specific capabilities.
“This is where we’re, looking at leveraging our solicitations process to bring in new entrants, and you will see that process play out here in the next few months as we go out to industry,” she said.
DIU plans to post solicitations related to Replicator in December. The initial solicitations will likely be for new uncrewed aerial systems capabilities not currently under contract.
The organization also plans to host a technology summit focused on Replicator in the Washington, D.C., area in early 2024 to provide companies with more detail about opportunities for how systems could support warfighter needs.