The Defense Department remains on track in its initiative to field thousands of autonomous systems across multiple warfighting domains as part of the recently announced Replicator initiative, a senior Pentagon innovation official said this week.

Aditi Kumar, the Defense Innovation Unit’s deputy director of strategy, policy, and national security partnerships, said the initiative serves as a tangible example of DOD’s focus on meeting critical warfighter needs at speed and scale.  

“The Replicator initiative is squarely grounded in operational need,” Kumar said during a discussion on the role of technology in solving operational challenges hosted by the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank.   

“We need capabilities to address the operational challenges laid out in the National Defense Strategy,” she said. “The future force has to be agile. We have to have the necessary capabilities to deter conflict  and, if deterrence fails, to fight and win the war.” 

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks unveiled the Replicator Initiative in August as one approach DOD is taking to meet the challenges laid out in the National Defense Strategy, which identifies China as the United States’ pacing challenge.   

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. 

Kumar said DOD is on track to meet the goals laid out by Hicks within the timeline.   

“The deputy [secretary] selected the first tranche of capabilities for Replicator right before Christmas,” she said. “For those capabilities, we’re currently working to identify all of the barriers to acceleration that we need to overcome to make sure that they are fielded, in the hands of the warfighter, in that February-to-August 2025 timeline.”  

DIU, the department’s organization for accelerating the adoption of commercial technology throughout the military, has played a central role in making the initiative a reality. 

Hicks 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.  

Defense Innovation Unit Director Doug Beck chairs the Defense Innovation Working Group aligned with the steering group and is charged with driving the process to accelerate technology and make the process repeatable.    

Kumar said meeting the critical needs of the warfighter will require input and coordination across the department.  

“That is why forums like the DISG are really important,” she said. “Because you have to have everybody around the table focused on problem solving and thinking about how you get a capability from where it is today all the way into the field with all of the associated considerations around training and sustainment, etc.”  

She said DOD has also been working closely with Congress on appropriate funding strategies to field the capabilities within the desired timeline.   

Kumar echoed other defense officials in emphasizing that the Replicator Initiative is a process for removing barriers to innovation, rather than a single endeavor to field specific technology.  

She said in applying Replicator as a process for quickly fielding autonomous systems, DOD stakeholders are gathering key lessons to be applied in future iterations.   

“We’ve already learned lessons about how we can move faster,” she said. “And the idea is now to apply that to other capabilities and portfolios so that we can do this again and again and really show that the department has the ability to move as quickly as the threat is moving.” 

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