US military planning to fund fleets of ‘small, smart, cheap’ drones

The Pentagon is considering expanding its fleet of drones and autonomous systems in the next two years, possibly enhancing it with AI.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said the Department of Defense plans to develop AI systems “intended to be small, smart, [and] cheap” to counter threats from China and other countries. 

The Journal said Hicks will announce plans to add more capabilities to the country’s network of drones and sensors that monitor military activities in other countries. One such possibility is a fleet of solar-powered “distributed pods of self-propelled [autonomous] systems” that can provide near-real-time information. The department may also look into autonomous ground-based and space-based networks for logistics and defense. 

It is unclear what kind of AI the military might add to drones and surveillance equipment. 

Hicks’ comments shed more light on the Pentagon’s Replicator program. Politico reported Replicator will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” and serve as a template for future projects to advance military technology rapidly. 

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