Top Pentagon AI projects on hold in US Budget minibus for 2024

Kratos’ AI-driven XQ-58 Valkyrie can launch from a ramp on land or sea and doesn’t need an airstrip. (Photo: DoD).
The Pentagon’s most forward-looking AI programs will find themselves in a desert of funding until September 2024, but hopes are high when the new 2025 budget kicks in…

XQ-58 Valkyrie is a cheap, unmanned «loyal wingman» and helper for manned aircraft, and is flown by artificial intelligence in collaboration with fighter pilots with amazing accumen.

They can fly in swarms, drop munitions — and take risks pilots would not take.

I wrote about its first test flight here, and on the budget request from 2023 here.

The Pentagon had requested a purchase of 2 000 of these as soon as possible, but there is no mention of the program in the budget minibus for 2024 that just passed congress.

This is not the only AI bet the Pentagon is making, though — as they have been secretly developing project Replicator for some time, which did recieve some trinkets of funding.

Meet the Replicator Initiative
The Repiclator Initiative is mostly shrouded in secrecy, and is hoping within the next year to develop series of «low-cost attritionable» (read: «expendable») drones for use by the army.

These would also be flown by artificial intelligence, and can operate in drone swarms of up to hundreds of drones in a single deployment. The pentagon is looking to build thousands or more of these and put them in the arms of soldiers in the field.

Replicator is also a favored project with Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who is now happy with getting at least some funding.

— The Replicator Initiative will prioritize the fielding of “attritable” capabilities — platforms that are unmanned and built affordably, allowing commanders to tolerate a higher degree of risk in employing them, Hicks said, according to Defense.gov.

Soo far: Funding secured
The DoD is asking for $500 million a year for the project, and got $200 million for the fist tranche, while completing the budgetary cost for this year could mean another $300 million dollars form shifting money internally within the DoD budget.

In the newly published Defense Budget for 2025 from the Biden Administration, Replicator is in with another $500 million, setting themselves up for their goal of $1 billion for the project over two years.

They expect to have «product» – working prototypes and deployable AI drones within a year, so you can expect these sometime in 2025.

2025 Budget: Valkyrie seems in
As for the Kratos-produced, AI driven XQ-58 Valkyrie, they seem to be mentioned in preamble to the 2025 budget, with this text:

The Budget also accelerates the development and procurement of uncrewed combat aircraft and the relevant autonomy to augment crewed aircraft. Investing in this mix of aircraft provides an opportunity to increase the resiliency and flexibility of the fleet to meet future threats, while reducing operating costs.

Now on this note — who else could they possibly be talking about? It certainly does sound like funding for the Pentagon request for the new fighter drones.

So, no AI powered weapons systems in this year’s omnibus package, which largely freezes last years funding — but both of these AI projects stand a strong chance in FY 2025, which starts in September 2024.

See also:Fighter drone flies with AI, Pentagon budget request from 2023

Read more: An introduction to Replicator, FY 2024 budget minbus, Summery of 2025 Budget.