U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks made the groundbreaking announcement that the U.S. military plans to deploy thousands of autonomous weapons systems over the next two years. The initiative, known as Replicator, aims to collaborate with defense and technology companies to create affordable systems for all branches of the military. With this move, the U.S. military is trying to counter China’s growing power and change the future of conflict.
– Dr. Peter W. Singer, a leading robotics expert, states, “The U.S. military’s deployment of thousands of autonomous weapons systems marks an important turning point in the evolution of military affairs. We are entering a new era in which robots will play a key role in determining the outcome of conflicts.”
Evolution of military robotics
The last decade has seen a significant evolution of modern military robotic systems. Many of these have been based on modified commercial technologies that have become more efficient, cheaper and widely available. More recently, the focus has shifted to experimentation on how to effectively utilize these systems in combat operations.
– Professor Mary Cummings, Director of the Human and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, comments, “The Replicator program represents a major leap forward in military robotics. The ability to deploy a large number of affordable autonomous systems in a variety of domains will undoubtedly change the dynamics of future battles.”
The Age of Autonomous Robots
Under Secretary Hicks emphasized the urgency of revolutionizing warfighting tactics. The Replicator program aims for large-scale deployment of attackable autonomous systems over the next 18-24 months. “Autonomous” refers to robots capable of performing complex military tasks without human input. These robots will be “expendable,” i.e., massive enough to be risked and lost during high-priority missions. The Replicator program envisions robots operating in a variety of domains, including land, sea, air, and space, making them versatile for a variety of tasks.
While Russia is seen as a “threat,” China presents a “challenge” to the U.S. military. China’s People’s Liberation Army has a significant advantage in terms of numbers: it has more personnel, tanks, ships, and missiles. The U.S. may have higher quality equipment, but China’s numerical advantage cannot be ignored. The Replicator program, with its rapid deployment of thousands of invulnerable autonomous systems, is designed to provide the U.S. military with the numbers needed to win future major conflicts.
– General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, states, “The Replicator initiative is a critical step toward maintaining our military superiority. By harnessing the capabilities of autonomous robots, we can expand our capabilities and keep our troops safe.”
The Battle for Taiwan and Beyond
One of the major issues driving the Replicator program is the potential battle for Taiwan. Recent board games have shown that large swarms of robots could be a decisive factor in repelling a major Chinese invasion. However, the Replicator program also has long-term goals of establishing mass production of robots to ensure a steady supply of them to the troops. Undersecretary Hicks argues that institutionalizing robot production will give the U.S. military a significant advantage in future combat scenarios.