The Department of Defense is developing the ability to launch thousands of drones at a time for use in a future war with China, according to top Pentagon officials. 

At a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Washington is initiating a program to launch thousands of land, air and sea drones simultaneously.

“They can be used consistent with our principles of mission command, where we empower the lowest-possible echelons to innovate and succeed in battle,” she remarked about the drone program. “And they can serve as resilient, distributed systems, even if bandwidth is limited, intermittent, degraded, or denied.”

Adm. John Aquilino, head of US Indo-Pacific Command discussed deploying as many as 1,000 drones within 24 hours. “Here’s a metric for me: 1,000 targets for 24 hours,” he said. Hicks said the numbers can be scaled from the thousands to higher numbers in the future.

“We’ll also aim to replicate and inculcate how we will achieve that goal, so we can scale whatever’s relevant in the future again and again and again. Easier said than done? You bet. But we’re going to do it,” she said. 

Aquilino explained research for the weapons system is already underway through DARPA. “The components in INDOPACOM have been experimenting now for the last five to 10 years with many of those unmanned capabilities.” He added, “Those will be an asymmetric advantage. So operational concepts that we are working through are going to help amplify our advantages in this theater…there’s a term, hellscape, that we use.”

In recent conflicts – Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh and Ethiopia – small drones have played a large role on the battlefield. Washington is in the midst of a massive military buildup in the Indo-Pacific, provoking a potential war with Beijing over Chinese territorial claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea. President Joe Biden and his two predecessors have invested billions of dollars in developing and deploying more weapons near China’s borders while investing little effort in diplomacy. The American policy of relying on military aggression over talks has sunk Washington’s and Beijing’s relationship to a historic low point.

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