You can launch without regret

Friday, December 1st, 2023

Since its founding in 2017, Anduril has argued that it’s a new type of defense contractor:

Instead of taking orders upfront from the US Department of Defense to fund development of products, Anduril has raised money from venture capitalists, including Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, that it uses to build weapons it predicts the military will want. Its first product was an automated security tower designed for the US border in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency. The company then began shipping early counter-drone aircraft to the US and UK militaries in 2019.


Anduril started work two years ago on the Roadrunner, a Looney Tunes-inspired dig at Raytheon’s Coyote, because it said the US would need a lower-cost, more nimble way to combat swarms. The tiny fighter jet has a carbon-fiber body and onboard electronics that let it track objects and perform maneuvers that’d be too dangerous for a human-piloted plane. One of its main advantages is that it can be reused, which makes it easier to launch at the first sign of an unknown object. “If you see a threat, you can launch multiple Roadrunners to go out to do a closer inspection of that threat and be loitering in case they’re needed,” says Christian Brose, the chief strategy officer at Anduril. “You can recall them, land them, refuel them and reuse them, so, essentially, you can launch without regret.”


To start the test, Anduril sent a fixed-wing drone into the air from a runway behind its compound. The sentry tower quickly detected the aircraft and fed information about its speed and trajectory into the company’s Lattice software. The test pilot received imagery of the drone and then manually marked it as a hostile threat. In an instant, the lid of the Roadrunner launch container opened, the turbines fired up and the craft zipped into the air. It took off toward the target and then began feeding its own sensor data and imagery into Lattice. As the Roadrunner closed in on the target, the test pilot gave a final command to destroy the fixed-wing craft, and, seconds later, the Lattice software displayed information showing that it had been a successful attack.

For the purposes of this demonstration, Anduril used proximity sensors to confirm that it would have taken out the target and didn’t actually blow up the fixed-wing craft. If it had, the Roadrunner wouldn’t have been able to do what it did next: It turned to fly back toward the Anduril compound, shifted into a vertical position and fired its thrusters toward the ground as landing legs kicked out from its side. During a maneuver lasting about a minute, the machine got ever closer to the ground before finally settling gently on a small concrete pad in a fashion very similar to a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rocket. A future version of the Roadrunner will be able to land even after destroying a target, Luckey says.

The whole idea, as Anduril sees it, is to allow a single operator to manage dozens or more Roadrunners in the field with Lattice providing a full view of the surroundings, targets and weapons available. If a drone swarm approaches a base, Lattice will quickly see and identify all the drones, and, with a couple of clicks, the operator can send Roadrunners off to combat the threat. This is a major change from many of the other counter-drone weapons that require about a dozen people to operate them.

Anduril has raised $2.7 billion to date and is valued at almost $10 billion.


  1. Bruce says:

    This is all expensive stuff. The drones that work keep getting cheaper and smaller, like the ones Hamas used on Israeli border guards- a model airplane built around a grenade. The DoD should have tens of millions of these by now. Why don’t they?

    The British Navy held off building ironclad warships until the US Civil War ironclads let the cat out of the bag. This was rational and in British interest. The British Navy had a lot of wooden ships ruling the waves, all doomed against ironclads. Why encourage ironclads?

    The US military has a lot of expensive equipment, much of it doomed against a thousand or so model airplanes built around grenades. But I don’t think the DoD is rationally discouraging drones. I think DoD is too feckless, corrupt, and focused on Hate Whitey kitsch to perform their duties.

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