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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Anduril’s Roadrunner Aims To Revolutionize Warfare

Military contractor Anduril Industries has introduced a reusable, jet-powered flying interceptor that the company believes could revolutionize how the U.S. and its allies defend against “a new class of threats” that includes increasing numbers of hostile drones, cruise missiles and other airborne invaders.

The new product is called Roadrunner, and the “autonomous air vehicle” features vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. As of now, the U.S. government is the only customer for the warhead-loaded version of the product, called Roadrunner-M (Munition).

The relatively low-cost, unmanned Roadrunner can observe or down a flying threat and then, if not detonated, return to a mobile base—unlike standard munitions that once launched are designed to blow up the flying invader and themselves.

In the history of modern warfare, “I’m not aware of another recoverable weapon,” Anduril Chief Strategy Officer Christian Brose said.

“It is a bit of a new category,” Anduril founder Palmer Luckey said at a Nov. 30 event at Anduril’s headquarters in Costa Mesa. “It’s a missile that can give you that threat picture before you actually have to engage the target.”

He added: “This thing’s able to go after full-size aircraft at significant speed and significant altitude.” It can also target incoming drones.

US Government

Luckey also used the Nov. 30 event to review some of the products the 6-year-old company has been developing, including Fury, an unmanned fighter-like drone that was recently added to the lineup as part of an acquisition.

“I’m supposed to love all my children equally, but this one’s definitely my favorite,” Luckey said of the Roadrunner. It includes Anduril-built jet engines. “We’ve been working on Roadrunner for two years. It’s going to be a huge business for us.”

Fighting wildfires is a potential non-military use for Roadrunner. It can also be used to check on oil refineries and nuclear power plants, and aid in search-and-rescue missions and stopping drug trafficking, the company said.

“We’re going to be able to build thousands of them,” according to Luckey, who said he could imagine a hundred thousand Roadrunners deployed across the world, with only a small number of people needed to manage them.

Initial manufacturing of the product takes place at the company’s base in Costa Mesa.

While Luckey declined to specify the U.S. government customer, much of the hour-long presentation focused on Roadrunner’s military capabilities, including racing toward hostile incoming aircraft and blowing them up in mid-flight.

Luckey’s company has made huge strides in the defense area, with his company’s Ghost drones used in Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders.

Hundreds of Thousands

The Roadrunner-M model is a high-explosive interceptor variant of Roadrunner for ground-based air defense that can rapidly identify, intercept and destroy an array of aerial threats, according to Anduril.

The product stands about 5 feet tall and almost 4 feet wide, with bat-like wings on each side. The circular central portion of the aircraft looks like a small, standard missile.

“We’re selling these right now in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Luckey said. “I have a clear path to make it a lot cheaper than that.”

Luckey emphasized that the reusable Roadrunner can be launched even when the incoming threat may be unclear—unlike standard munitions that blow up on impact. It travels at a “high sub-sonic” speed with a relatively long range.

He emphasized that Roadrunner’s cost is much lower than the reported cost of $3 million or $4 million for the well-known Patriot missiles.

“An operator can launch [Roadrunner] without regret,” given the ability to decide later on whether or not to engage with the target, said Brose.

It has the “flexibility to rapidly launch from and return to any location, pairing high subsonic speed with exceptional agility and stability,” Anduril said. Fueling time takes less than 30 minutes.

Updated Payloads

Roadrunner can carry a variety of payloads to accomplish broad sets of missions and can constantly be updated to meet the threats of tomorrow.

Roadrunner-M innovations include faster launch and takeoff timing, three times the warhead payload capacity, and is three times more maneuverable in G force compared to similar offerings on the market, Anduril said.

“We did this every step of the way working with the U.S. government,” Brose said, noting that Anduril—which is reportedly seeking a new funding round that will value OC’s most valuable startup around $10 billion—spent its own money on the project. He said Roadrunner operates on the principle of “rudimentary autonomy” and is a “software-defined system.”

‘First Recoverable Weapon’

“I’m pretty sure that we’ve built the first recoverable weapon,” Brose said, with a quick turnaround time.

Roadrunner-M squadrons can be launched by a single operator from anywhere.
It can be controlled by Lattice, Anduril’s AI-powered software suite for command and control, or be fully integrated into existing air defense radars, sensors, and architectures to provide immediately deployable capability.

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