During a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum, LaPlante expressed the need to massively increase the production of counter-unmanned Aerial Systems [UAS]. He stressed, “We are in a position reminiscent of a year ago when we predicted a need to escalate 155 artillery production to 100,000 units per month.”
LaPlante’s statement follows his recent visit to AeroVironment, a prominent defense technology company known for producing the Switchblade loitering munition. The munition is currently employed in Ukraine and is reportedly sought after by Israel. This situation has added urgency to the Defense Department’s push for more advanced military capabilities.
The Pentagon is actively working on developing similar systems, launching several initiatives including the rapid acquisition project ‘Replicator’ and the tech-centric AUKUS pillar. Meanwhile, the U.S. has witnessed firsthand the impact of drones, as its forces in Iraq and Syria have been consistently targeted by Iranian-backed militia groups launching drone attacks since mid-October.
Senior Pentagon officials, including Heidi Shyu, the Under Secretary for Research and Engineering, and others, have initiated conversations with manufacturers of systems such as loitering munitions and counter-UAS capabilities, according to LaPlante. During these engagements, industry representatives are shown the chart of 155 productions over time, stimulating discussions around production capacities and the resources needed to maximize them.
LaPlante emphasized the need for the industrial base to have the ability to churn out these systems in substantial quantities.
However, the Pentagon is yet to ascertain the exact number of counter-UAS systems required, admitted LaPlante, hinting that this determination would require further examination. He projected a figure close to a few thousand.
LaPlante believes that this perspective shifts the focus onto cost per unit. He said, “The realization is vital that whatever approach is taken, it must be affordable.” However, the challenge is not only related to cost-effectiveness but also suitable financing.
LaPlante pointed out that a significant bulk of the funds allocated to these programs by the Pentagon predominantly go towards research, development, testing, and evaluation. A shift in focus toward the production of these systems on a large scale is imperative, along with strengthening the associated industrial base.
However, considering the absence of a full-year appropriation passed by Congress, such production increases may become challenging. Radha Plumb, the Pentagon’s second-ranking acquisition official, told Defense News that her office’s projected investments in counter-UAS systems for the fiscal year 2024 have already been impacted by ongoing resolutions, leading to a potential chain reaction of delay.
LaPlante, commenting on the limited capacity for drones and drone defenses, stated that it was unfair to blame the industrial base. He said, “The lack of demand from the market stems from our own lack of demand.”