In a bid to counter China’s numerical advantage in any potential conflict, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) plans to deploy a vast array of cheap, unmanned drones across multiple domains—air, sea, and land.

This initiative, dubbed “Replicator,” aims to create thousands of drones within the next two years, a move that is expected to significantly alter the strategic landscape in the Indo-Pacific region.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks underscored the importance of mass production of affordable drones during her remarks at the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) conference in Washington, D.C.

“These drones can be produced close to the battlefield at a fraction of the cost of traditional weapons systems,” Hicks noted. This approach mirrors the effective use of drones by Ukraine against Russian forces.

The drones are designed to function autonomously, even in environments with limited or disrupted communication bandwidths, empowering lower echelons to innovate and succeed independently on the battlefield.

Admiral John Aquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), revealed the scale of the challenge and the response required. “Here’s a metric for me: 1,000 targets for 24 hours,” he said, pointing to the vast number of potential targets that would need to be addressed across the expansive Pacific theatre. To achieve this, INDOPACOM has been collaborating with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through the Assault Breaker II programme, which focuses on rapidly integrating targeting data across the theatre.

Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, articulated a more specific and aggressive vision for the drones’ application, particularly in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri-La Dialogue Summit, Paparo detailed a plan to transform the Taiwan Strait into an “unmanned hellscape” using a range of classified capabilities.

“I can make their lives utterly miserable for a month, which buys me the time for the rest of everything,” Paparo asserted. This strategy involves deploying thousands of unmanned systems, including surface vessels, submarines, and aerial drones, to engage Chinese forces as soon as they begin their crossing.

This first line of defence is designed to harass, distract, and delay the invaders, creating a barrier and buying crucial time for the U.S. and its allies to respond.

The urgency of these developments is underscored by the timeline set forth by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has called for the People’s Liberation Army to be ready to take Taiwan by force by 2027. The U.S., alongside its regional partners, is racing against time to ensure that any such invasion would be met with formidable resistance.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_825814)
1 day ago

Of course the Chinese will be producing thousands of their own systems. The drone wars will be an intriguing one should it happen.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_825826)
1 day ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

And why not be doing this more on the quiet? Why broadcast it all and in advance, and as you say it will just be encouraging copycatting from China. More ships, planes, subs, missiles, surveillance also needed.

Ian
Ian (@guest_825837)
1 day ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

The general idea is to prevent the Chinese trying to invade in the first place, by making it obvious that it would be a hopeless undertaking. The geopolitical consequences of an actual Chinese invasion attempt would be severe whether they were defeated or not. Forcing them to abandon their expansionist aspirations until the window of opportunity closes offers at least some hope for stability over the next couple of decades.

DMJ
DMJ (@guest_825851)
1 day ago
Reply to  Ian

Invading Taiwan is a plan typical of an autocratic regime unable to think of better things to do.
Even at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is 130 m (81 mi) across, an invitation to sink the bulk of shipping that may try to attack.
The CCP should take a lesson from Putin’s Ukraine misadventure, and forget it.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_825859)
1 day ago
Reply to  DMJ

Unfortunately Tiawan is a profound issue to the Chinese and they will not back down on this unless the west can convince them that it will fight and win a world war.. The big difference is that Russia has invaded a sovereign country….china believes Taiwan has been stolen from it by the losing side in a civil war that is being backed out by states meddling its in sovereign affairs….China firmly believes this is the closing episode of the civil war that ended the last vestige of the century of humiliation…they will go to war over it, in the same… Read more »

DMJ
DMJ (@guest_825860)
1 day ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Sure, that’s the oft-repeated CCP position.
But absolutely no reason to make it easy for them, and at least they should be prepared for massive losses, and no guarantee of a win – if you can call it that.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_825874)
1 day ago
Reply to  DMJ

Indeed, but what you have to understand from that is that they will go to war, and it will be very difficult to deter them..which means your deterrent needs to be huge…and you need to be ready to take the consequences of that deterrent failing because it probably will.

DMJ
DMJ (@guest_825903)
22 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

It’s not just the CCP vs Taiwan.
Other countries throughout the whole area are threatened by the CCP’s braggadocio and take it seriously.
Result is an arms race, with the CCP taking prime responsibility.

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_825902)
22 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Their actions in the SCS & against free nations across the globeshow they don’t have a limited, local plan, but a plan for total world domination. They’ve been building bases across the globe too. But attacking Taiwan would kill the golden goose the west has handed them on a plate by shifting most of our manufacturing industries to China. A terrible own goal for freedom. Invade Taiwan & all those markets close.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_826087)
6 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

China’s CCP may think it has a historical right to invade Taiwan, but surely in this day and age they need to let somethings go and be respectful of other nations and people’s rights to self determination. The world doesn’t just revolve around them even though they do have a lot of economic clout, so does the rest of the world and it wants its freedom which it will fight and defend for!

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_826089)
6 hours ago
Reply to  DMJ

Yes, overly egotistical bullies may need to learn, the hard way. It will cost the West too.

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_825900)
23 hours ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

It’s called deterence. I welcome the USA making their support for Taiwan & opposition to a CCP invasion public. Thankfully most of China’s neighbours have been closely watching the rise of the PRC for decades & building their forces accordingly. No peace dividend folly their. Xi knows that if they act with unity & alongside US support he’s got a huge challange despite the size of the PLA. It would seem the best way to have any chance of success of retaking Taiwan the PRC would need the distraction of N Korea mounting a major invasion of S Korea. Though… Read more »

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_826083)
6 hours ago
Reply to  Frank62

With respect I don’t think China takes much notice of Western “deterrence” as I think they see themselves as big players now. Their self-flated idea of their history and hegemony might also be going to their heads. So long as it doesn’t also go to ours (the West). We need to be strong enough to defend our human values, democratic rights and those of other nations. Taiwan is an obvious centre of world chip production too, isn’t it 90+% of the global market? Why was it ever allowed to be so concentrated there and right next to the Chinese mainland?… Read more »

Last edited 6 hours ago by Quentin D63
Simon
Simon (@guest_825854)
1 day ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Uk military will have to be prepared to face drone war.

Para-Commando
Para-Commando (@guest_826079)
9 hours ago
Reply to  Simon

They are

“ Cutting-edge drone killer radio wave weapon developing at pace
A new game-changing weapon that uses radio waves to disable enemy electronics and take down multiple drones at once is under development for the UK’s armed forces”.

AlexS
AlexS (@guest_826051)
14 hours ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Thousands? Millions.
A smartphone is a drone without wings and propulsion.

Expat
Expat (@guest_825831)
1 day ago

China will win at the numbers game.

China will happily produce drones which don’t have the same level of regualtory requirements that the West would. If a % of these drones malfunctioned and fell on the Chineese population then the Chineese government would see it as nothing more than unfortunate where as for the west its intolerable. So they could forgo things like redundant flight controllers making making it easier/cheaper to produce in greater volumes.

Simon
Simon (@guest_825852)
1 day ago
Reply to  Expat

In peacetime the west flies expensive aviation compliant drones with plenty of redundancy, war situation with no civilian aviation around can put up the cheap stuff.

Expat
Expat (@guest_825932)
20 hours ago
Reply to  Simon

Trouble is we need that stuff ready to go so it can turned around quickly and put into production.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_825870)
1 day ago
Reply to  Expat

Unfortunately it also now has the numbers game on: 1) warm bodies to throw in a war. 2) political warfare capability and internal security ( china will attack through all domains of political warfare, from social media, creating civil strife, subversion and outright terror attacks). 3) core industrial capacity…china has 260 times the shipbuilding capacity of the US.. 26 million tonnes a year vs 100,000 tonnes a year. 4) navel units…its got a lot of ships to play the attrition game. 5) amphibious capabilities, the PLAN have around 400,000 tonnes of over the beach sea lift..but china has been building… Read more »

Expat
Expat (@guest_825935)
20 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The irony is all that nass China has and the tech was provide directly or indirectly by the West.

I’ve said before China is one big western social, political and economic experiment gone wrong for the West.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_825944)
20 hours ago
Reply to  Expat

Yes someone accidentally forgot that the great political, social economic movements of the 20c are actually mutually exclusive and profound enemies….the idiot exponents of “the end of history” may go down as some of the worst fools in history….they never noticed that the CCP was still at war with them.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_826084)
6 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Correct if I’m wrong but I thought I read somewhere that the CCP membership is only 100 million out of a 1.4 billion population. Their control of society might be comprehensive but at the same time potentially very tenuous too. This is top down control, if overwhelmed from below could topple the CCP over. There’s also a big Chinese diaspora all over the West and I don’t think they’d be majority anti-West, in fact quite the opposite and this must be getting back to the mainland Chinese and bypassing some of the CCP’s anti-West propaganda. Maybe the West’s openess is… Read more »

Last edited 6 hours ago by Quentin D63
Para-Commando
Para-Commando (@guest_826080)
9 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Not a easy fate crossing 80 miles of water without being noticed and without being attacked by sea mines anti-ship missiles, sea drones air drones and fighter-jets If they did manage to get thought that lot, it won’t take that long before they are within artillery range, 20 miles of continuous artillery fire seeing comrades die and ships blown up, but you’re the lucky one that manage to land on the beach, no doubt there will be a miles of mind fields defensive obstacles to cross under heavy machine gun fire. By then the PRC would have been so badly… Read more »