Pentagon Surging Production of Thousands of Drones to Counter China

Andrew Thornebrooke
By Andrew Thornebrooke
August 30, 2023USshare

The Pentagon is stepping up the production of thousands of autonomous systems to compete with China’s military, which outnumbers the United States in personnel, ships, artillery, and land-based missiles.

The project, known as the Replicator Initiative, was announced by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks at a conference of the National Defense Industrial Association on Aug. 28.

“Replicator is meant to help us overcome [China’s] biggest advantage, which is mass,” Ms. Hicks said. “More ships. More missiles. More people.

“With smart people, smart concepts, and smart technology, our military will be more nimble, with uplift and urgency from the commercial sector.”

Ms. Hicks said that the Department of Defense (DOD) will use the Replicator program to field thousands of autonomous systems across multiple domains within the next 18 to 24 months.

Drones to Reinforce US Presence in Indo-Pacific

Ms. Hicks said a surge in autonomous systems is vital to give the U.S. military a wider array of capabilities. Such capabilities refer to affordable, unmanned platforms that allow commanders to accept higher degrees of risk without overly large human or economic costs.

Increasing the military’s capacity for attrition is paramount to holding its competitive advantage against China, which maintains the world’s largest navy and most advanced ballistic missile force.

Thus, to counter the threat posed by China’s communist regime and to prevent a war for Taiwan, Ms. Hicks said the DOD would surge unmanned capabilities across the military.

By augmenting U.S. manufacturing and military mobilization capabilities, Ms. Hicks said, the United States will “outmatch adversaries by out-thinking, out-strategizing, and out-maneuvering them.”

China Amassing Drone Capabilities

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, is preparing for war through a massive military modernization program.

A key part of that effort is the CCP’s decision to invest heavily in drone warfare.

The regime is funding a range of drone technology from cheap and expendable commercial quadcopters to resource-heavy high-altitude long-endurance drones. Its third and newest aircraft carrier, the Fujian, is expected to host a variety of drones.

That capability will likely build on operational lessons already learned from the regime’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, which was spotted in June 2022 with a small fleet of commercial or commercial-derivative drones on its flight deck.

The CCP has also launched the Zhu Hai Yun, a 290-foot ocean research vessel designed to deploy underwater and airborne drones for various purposes. The ship itself is a drone and can be remotely controlled by a pilot or left to navigate the open seas autonomously using artificial intelligence (AI).

In the words of its manufacturer, it is the “world’s first intelligent unmanned system mother ship.”

Notably, the South China Morning Post reported that the vessel hosts military capabilities that can “intercept, besiege, and expel invasive targets.”

US Seeks Mostly Robotic Military 

The United States isn’t without its own ambitions for the future of automated killing machines.

Earlier this year, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said that the world’s most powerful nations would rely on mostly robotic militaries within the next decade.

“Over the next 10 to 15 years, you’ll see large portions of advanced countries’ militaries become robotic,” Gen. Milley said during a March 31 discussion with Defense One. “If you add robotics with artificial intelligence and precision munitions and the ability to see at range, you’ve got the mix of a real fundamental change.

“That’s coming. Those changes, that technology … we are looking at inside of 10 years.”

To that end, Gen. Milley said the United States has “five to seven years to make some fundamental modifications to our military” because the nation’s adversaries, including the CCP, are seeking to deploy robotics and AI in the same manner.

As such, the nation that is the first to deploy robotics and AI together in a cohesive way is likely to dominate the next war. The Replicator Initiative appears to be one large push toward achieving that dominance.

Gen. Milley said, “I would submit that the country, the nation-state, that takes those technologies and adapts them most effectively and optimizes them for military operations, that country is probably going to have a decisive advantage at the beginning of the next conflict.”

From The Epoch Times

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