China views Taiwan as a despicable, rogue, and secessionist province that must be brought back into the fold. It has been this way since the Communist Party under Mao Zedong secured the Chinese mainland under its rule in 1949, and the defeated forces of Chiang Kai-Shek fled to the island of Taiwan.

Seeking glory for the Communist party (and no doubt for himself, seeking to be remembered as one of the greatest leaders of China), dictator Xi Jinping seeks to complete the elusive reunification of Taiwan with the mainland either by diplomacy or by the barrel of a gun. With the election of Lai Ching-te as the new president of Taiwan and his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, the Taiwanese people’s democracy and freedom will be maintained. Of course, this infuriates Beijing and makes an attempted forced unification all but certain, with dictator Xi Jinping ordering his military to be ready to launch an invasion as early as 2027.

To buttress the Taiwanese against a potential Chinese invasion, the U.S. has been busy. The Marine Corps has been retooled, specifically to engage the Chinese military. Green Berets and contractors have been sent to build up the combat capacity and proficiency of the Taiwanese military. Additionally, there are continual approvals of arms transfers to Taiwan (although delivery must be expedited). One of the Department of Defense’s newest drone programs, designed to make an invasion of Taiwan more difficult and deadly, is known as the “Replicator Initiative.”

Invasion of the Drones…In Modern Warfare

Drones are now a ubiquitous feature of warfare, and the war in Ukraine is but one case in point. They are deployed for reconnaissance, target acquisition and correction for artillery, damage assessment and lethal direct action. They have been used to disable tanks and other armored vehicles. Tactical drones also routinely attack small units and individual soldiers, altering the calculations of Ukrainian and Russian field commanders at the tactical level.

Modern drones are so deadly and ever present, that by “some accounts, as many as 90 percent of the wounded Ukrainian solders who have made it to a stabilization point have been hit by an FPV drone or by explosives dropped by a drone” (Kirichenko, 2024). Citing analysis by the Royal United Services Institute, Scharre (Obstacles, 2023) provides the following evidence of the Ukrainian military’s massive use and reliance on drones: It loses approximately 10,000 drones per month. However, it is able to replenish its stocks with relative ease, by purchasing inexpensive and widely available drones on the commercial market.

Aside from a drone’s great utility as a force multiplier, one of the primary aspects driving the use of drones is their price and (as mentioned above) the ability to mass produce them. The smaller drones used on the battlefield can cost a few hundred dollars. Yet they destroy equipment not easily replaced, worth millions of dollars, simply by attaching a mortar to it. Their outsized effects, compared to their relative size and price tag has led the DoD to initiate what is known as the “Replicator Initiative.”

The Replicator Initiative

On August 28, 2023, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the Replicator Initiative. The primary purpose of this program is to mass produce multiple thousands of drones within 18 to 24 months (DOD’s Replicator Program, 2023). The program is already well underway with the DoD having secured $500 million for the fiscal year defense budget (U.S. Department of Defense, 2024). This funding is to be used to help procure “uncrewed surface vehicles…, uncrewed aerial systems…and counter-uncrewed aerial systems…of various sizes and payloads from several traditional and non-traditional vendors” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2024).

The daunting task for the Replicator Initiative, is to blunt an all-out amphibious assault by the Chinese armed forces utilizing surface, subsurface and aerial drones. Ideally this would buy the needed time (about one month) to gather additional forces to buttress the defense of Taiwan and beat back the invasion, in similar fashion to the initial influx of drones and TOW missiles on Ukraine’s battlefields.