WASHINGTON — Anduril Industries unveiled its latest autonomous system, Roadrunner — a reusable aircraft that can carry a range of payloads, takeoff vertically and intercept and destroy airborne threats.
The California-based technology firm revealed two variants of the system Dec. 1. The baseline Roadrunner can quickly launch and fly at high subsonic speeds and its payloads can be reconfigured for a variety of missions.
Roadrunner-M is a munitions version of the system designed to protect against uncrewed aerial system threats. The company says the vehicle can rapidly locate, track and disable adversary systems and its interceptors can be recovered, refueled and reused if they’re not deployed.
“Instead of having to fire multiple interceptors at one threat, you can now deploy multiple interceptors to go out and loiter, to gather additional intelligence, to be on site in a timely way in the case that you actually want to employ them,” Chief of Strategy Chris Brose told reporters Nov. 28.
Palmer Luckey, founder of Anduril , told reporters during the same embargoed briefing the company has been designing, building and demonstrating the Roadrunner systems with its own funding for two years and is about to begin low-rate production through a contract with a U.S. customer.
Luckey declined to disclose the customer, but said the initial order is for “hundreds of units” and he expects the company will quickly scale into the hundreds of thousands. Brose noted that the U.S. government has been closely watching the effort and Roadrunner has demonstrated operational utility through a rigorous flight test program.
“One of our main motivations as a company has been to prove it and then talk about it,” Brose said. “I think we’re at the beginning of that conversation on Roadrunner.”
The use of uncrewed aircraft systems on the battlefield has expanded in recent years and the Defense Department is working to both leverage the potential of swarming drones in its own arsenal and counter increased threats from adversaries.
The Pentagon established the Joint Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office to develop a coordinated, long-term response to drone threats in 2019, and in August, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks revealed a new DoD initiative called Replicator to field thousands of autonomous systems over the next two years.
Brose said Roadrunner was designed with both of those challenges in mind.
“We’re very hopeful that the government will see in this capability what we see in it, which is a novel solution that is built to be adaptable to where those threats are going in the near future – which, by the way, has been a process that’s been playing out over the past few years, and it’s just going to get worse,” he said.
Fielding capabilities such as drones and other high-need systems in larger quantities is a “critical challenge,” for DoD right now, Brose said, but he’s hopeful the department is serious about funding large-scale production efforts.
“Our belief and our hope is that this is an opportunity to really produce this capability at scale, which is something we are absolutely capable of doing,” he said.
On cost, Luckey said a single Roadrunner is “in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars,” but the company expects that to drop as it produces the systems at a higher rate.
“The more of these we make, the cheaper they get,” he said, adding that the company’s decision to build its own turbojet engines rather than work with another supplier will help it control cost and performance moving forward.
Brose noted that while Roadrunner-M may cost more than other counter-drone systems, it can address a wider range of threats, making it a lower cost alternative to missiles like the Patriot, which cost about $4 million each.
“Roadrunner can come in and actually fill a gap in the market that is perhaps maybe a bit more exquisite and a bit more expensive than those low-end solutions, but it’s going to be an order of magnitude cheaper than a patriot missile,” he said. “That seems like a pretty good deal to us.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.