UAVs continually kill civilians, but the U.S. military wants to expand its arsenal with an army of new, mass-produced kamikaze AI drones.

By Nick Turse, The Intercept

Worried about a potential war with China, the Pentagon is turning to a new class of weapons to fight the numerically superior People’s Liberation Army: drones, lots and lots of drones.

In August 2023, the Defense Department unveiled Replicator, its initiative to field thousands of “all-domain, attritable autonomous (ADA2) systems”: Pentagon-speak for low-cost (and potentially AI-driven) machines — in the form of self-piloting ships, large robot aircraft, and swarms of smaller kamikaze drones — that they can use and lose en masse to overwhelm Chinese forces.

An Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone undergoing maintenance in a hangar at Columbus Air Force Base, MS.

Earlier this month, two Pentagon offices leading this charge announced that four nontraditional weapons makers had been chosen for another drone program, with test flights planned for later this year. The companies building this “Enterprise Test Vehicle,” or ETV, will have to prove that their drone can fly over 500 miles and deliver a “kinetic payload,” with a focus on weapons that are low-cost, quick to build, and modular, according to a 2023 solicitation for proposals and a recent announcement from the Air Force Armament Directorate and the Defense Innovation Unit, the Pentagon’s off-the-shelf acceleration arm. Many analysts believe that the ETV initiative may be connected to the Replicator program. DIU did not return a request for clarification prior to publication.

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