March 6, 2024

Technology Readiness Levels for Replicator


As the Pentagon formalizes its spending plan and reprogramming requests for the Replicator initiative, the news around specific platforms and competitions has increased. As a result, BCE is actively evaluating the DoD’s TRL expectations across domains. While there are several platforms that are either fielded or in the late stages of development, the maturity of both the final systems and the mission packages within them varies.

Current State of the Market

The market for small form-factor unmanned systems is relatively mature across ISR, navigation, and communications. There is less clarity on how the payloads required for kinetic and non-kinetic effects will be integrated into the maritime domain. Furthermore, the requirements for flight time and distance in the Pacific may require additional modification of existing platforms. Deputy Secretary of Defense Hick’s submission of the desired capabilities will shed some light on how the DoD is thinking about which capabilities to deploy where, when, and in what form factors.

In the land and air domain, the DoD has production level, proven solutions as industry is currently supplying solutions to support Ukraine. One such example recently highlighted by DefenseScoop was Aerovironment’s Switchblade 600. The system has been used across the US Army, SOCOM, and in Ukraine to provide land forces with anti-armor capabilities. Other competitive platforms include Anduril’s line of ALTIUS air-launched effects capabilities, which have been deployed for specific USSOCOM missions. While these systems are specific examples used for targeted missions, their maturity suggests that land forces will expect a minimum of TRL 6 and potentially up to TRL 8.

In the maritime domain, TF 59 has experimented with a wide range of capabilities. Today, there are several options for communications and ISR platforms including Saildrone, Liquid Robotics, and Teledyne that will provide higher TRL solutions (6+). Further, a recent solicitation from DIU for Production-Ready, Inexpensive, Maritime Expeditionary (PRIME), states a “preference may be given to companies that can provide evidence demonstrating capability in relevant and/or representative environments,” suggesting a desire for solutions that provide a minimum of TRL 6. The underwater domain will look somewhat similar, with a wider range of solutions providing more mature ISR and mine hunting capabilities.

How Contractors Can Navigate

While there are a range of higher TRL options for the DoD to select, industry should consider several factors when evaluating TRL as part of a capture strategy.

1.       Have a clear understanding of mission requirements

Expectations for TRL will vary by mission and domains. ISR and Comms beacons will likely require more mature solutions than kinetic and non-kinetic effectors. Other needs, like the systems to enable large-scale swarm activities, will provide additional development opportunities as the required command, control, and communications capabilities are less mature. Firms must evaluate their alignment to and right to win within specific mission areas, identify which platforms or capabilities provide the greatest pWin, and evaluate if there are opportunities to leverage other existing capabilities to enable other challenges associated with deploying unmanned systems en masse. This also necessitates greater clarity from the Pentagon on which missions and capabilities will be in demand. While progress has been made on this front, being as open as possible with industry is required to meet the desired timeline for fielding.

2.       Be selective in your pursuits

Replicator dollars will be highly competitive, and the Pentagon appears more willing to field solutions from non-traditional suppliers. Contractors cannot be everything to everyone. Every firm should carefully evaluate its portfolio to identify where it has the most mature capabilities and the greatest fit with mission needs.

3.       Develop a partnership strategy

Again and again, DoD leadership highlights the importance of partnerships between small, disruptive suppliers and large primes. This provides avenues for small players to leverage high TRL platforms or payloads from larger primes and take advantage of their ability to navigate the acquisition cycle. For primes, this meets DoD’s desire to field high TRL systems from a wider range of vendors and allows the prime to focus on specific elements of the system. Identifying and evaluating which partners increase pWin will be another critical element of any capture strategy.

4.       Develop a manufacturing roadmap

While providing high TRL solutions will be key, demonstrating the ability to produce those capabilities quickly and at scale is perhaps the most important element of the Replicator vision. Industry must be able to provide a roadmap showing how it can meet the quantities required in the Replicator vision and beyond. As we’ve observed in the Ukrainian conflict, the quantity of attritable, unmanned systems used every day will likely increase well beyond expectations during a conflict.

Aerospace and Defense

Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Joe Giandomenico
Principal Boston
Anirudh Suneel
Principal London
Ben Osterholtz
Manager Boston
Robyn Pirie
Manager Boston
Mark Kipphut
Senior Advisor Dallas
Kristin A. Robertson
Senior Advisor, Aerospace & Defense St. Louis
Aaron Prupas
Senior Advisor, Aerospace & Defense Washington
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