Now that DoD picked first set of Replicator capabilities, next step is "acceleration pathways"

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to throw the weight of senior leadership behind the next step in its Replicator initiative: developing “acceleration pathways” for specific systems that meet operational criteria recently identified by the DoD’s number two official, a department spokesperson told Breaking Defense.

“Now that we have selected capabilities, we will develop acceleration pathways for specific systems that meet those capabilities, using focused leadership attention to identify and address any barriers to scaling their production and burn down associated risk for ultimate fielding for the warfighter,” said Eric Pahon, Pentagon spokesman.

As reported by DefenseScoop, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks made the “key capability selections” last month. Capabilities are not the actual systems that will be fielded under the initiative, but instead “are effects the warfighter needs to be able to achieve through a particular course of action,” Pahon said.

Last November, Hicks seemed to suggest to reporters that the first set of actual systems to be mass produced under Replicator would be picked by mid-December. “We will select the candidates within the next … three weeks,” she said at a Nov. 21 Defense Writers Group breakfast. But a few weeks later, officials from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) said they were identifying which capabilities would fit under the effort, and Pahon told Breaking Defense Hicks’ recent selection of capabilities, not systems, was consistent with the months-old timeline.

Pahon said the capability sets from which Hicks chose were made up of nominations from each of the military branches “based on a warfighter-centric set of criteria.” 

“Service senior leaders are critical members of the DIU-led Defense Innovation Working Group and the Deputy’s Innovation Steering Group, which are the governance bodies for Replicator,” he said. (In December, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said his service had nominated three systems for Replicator, only describing them as “bigger than a quadcopter but smaller than an MQ-1 [Predator],” Inside Defense reported.)

A new constellation with laser comms and compatibility with the Space Development Agency’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture is now taking shape.


Under Replicator, the Pentagon wants to field multiple thousands of attritable autonomous systems at scale in multiple domains between February and August of next year. When announcing the initiative last year, Hicks said the effort was spurred by China’s current “biggest advantage” militarily: mass. 

“To stay ahead, we’re going to create a new state of the art — just as America has before — leveraging attritable, autonomous systems in all domains, which are less expensive, put fewer people in the line of fire, and can be changed, updated or improved with substantially shorter lead times,” Hicks said last August. 

On Tuesday, Michael Horowitz, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development and emerging capabilities, said his office is responsible for ensuring those capabilities selected are aligned with the National Defense Strategy and working with the Defense Innovation Unit to make sure Replicator succeeds. 

Horowitz said the conflict in Ukraine proved why “attritable capabilities are increasingly important.”

A bigger picture way to say this is that we used to think about [was] either you have precision or you have mass. That’s no longer the case,” he said. “What we need in many instances is going to be precise mass. And that’s where the notion of attritable autonomy comes in.”

DoD is now developing acceleration pathways for specific systems that can meet those capability requirements and will brief lawmakers — some of whom have been skeptical about Replicator’s prospects — on the chosen capabilities and associated funding strategies, Pahon said.