The Replicator Program: Making Militarily Suitable Drones at Low Costs

Category Technology

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The Replicator program is a initiative by the US military to integrate AI chips and software to outsource suppliers of relatively standard drones. The goal is to save time and money with the production of the drones, so that they will cost around $3000-6000. The joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kit, made by Boeing, also helps turn unguided bombs to precision-guided weapons for about $24,000.

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Currently, small kamikaze drones with 10-40 kilometer range (like the Switchback 600) cost about $60000 through normal DOD procurement. However, the Ukrainian military can just use off the shelf $700 commercial drones and stick some explosives in them. The Replicator program will take AI chips and military AI software and put them into commercial drones. The commercial drone suppliers will make drones to military specifications which will be able integrate with the military AI software. The goal is to make thousands within 18-24 months. This should get close to the off the shelf commercial price. The goal is likely a $3000-6000 drone with an AI kit. This would be 5-10% of the cost of regular Switchback like drones and maybe five times the price of an off the shelf drone.

Boeing's JDAM kit on average costs $24,000 and can send bombs over 40 miles to a target after being equipped with wings

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that turns unguided bombs into precision-guided weapons. The basic JDAM kit costs an average of just over $24,000. The JDAM kit is made by Boeing.The JDAM kit can add wings that open after the bomb is dropped, allowing it to fly more than 40 miles to a target. This will mean that the US military will keep their $1 billion per year AI research and then have a range of outsourced suppliers that make a lot of relatively standard drones. If the military bought $450 million worth of drones each year at $4500 each then they could get 100,000 such drones. It would put combat drones into a similar mark up as military bullets and grenades. Replicator will use existing funding, existing programming lines, and existing authorities to accelerate production and delivery at scale — by exerting leadership focus and attention on a singular operational challenge and maturing solutions, because that's what ultimately delivers.

Off the shelf commercial drones usually cost $700

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