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US Considering Switchblade Drone Swarms for Counter-China Initiative

The US Department of Defense is considering the Switchblade 600 kamikaze drone for the Replicator unmanned systems initiative.

If selected, the AeroVironment system will be “mass produced and rapidly scaled” for the Pentagon’s counter-China initiative, Defense Scoop revealed, citing sources.

It is the first reported system being considered for the initiative, for which a “small number of capabilities” have already been selected.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks did not specify the capabilities in January, saying that “acquisition strategies for specific platforms that could fill the bill” are being prepared.

“The deputy secretary selected capability areas in December. The military departments then identified specific systems and associated acquisition strategies to meet those capability needs,” Defense Scoop quoted Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon as saying.

“We submitted a spend plan and reprogramming requests to Congress. We hope they will act quickly, which will allow us to ramp up and accelerate production on Replicator capabilities. We aren’t able to provide specifics on the reprogramming request at this time,” he said.

The Switchblade 600 

The 15-kilogram (33-pound) aerial weapon features high-precision optics and an anti-armor warhead to take out hardened targets, including tanks.

It features an endurance of 40 minutes and a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles).

Loitering munitions is just one of the capabilities being considered for the initiative, which conceptually includes the deployment of thousands of unmanned systems to counter China’s growing military capability

“I don’t think ‘kamikaze drone’ is the right way to think about it. You need to think, again, well beyond the kinetic side of this into the ability to deliver logistics, command and control, ISR, if you will, and again, multiple domains,” the outlet quoted Hicks as saying.

Swarm of Unmanned Explosive Boats

Another potential Replicator capability being considered is swarms of unmanned surface vessels.

The Pentagon plans to deploy hundreds, if not thousands, of unmanned “interceptor” boats against a numerically superior Chinese Navy.

At least 120 vessels are expected to be produced annually from 2025 for the initiative under the Production-Ready, Inexpensive, Maritime Expeditionary project.

“This is their effort to try to get some new kinetic, lethal USV fielded that can be employed probably in a western Pacific context – maybe the Strait of Taiwan,” naval analyst Bryan Clark told USNI News about the project.

“They want to go out to the commercial world and say, ‘Alright, what do you got in terms of kinetic, lethal USVs that can be produced at scale’.”

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