Army Ups Scale, Complexity for Third Annual Project Convergence

By Mikayla Easley
An autonomous weapons system uses a tethered UAS during Project Convergence.

Army photo

FORT IRWIN, California — The Army recently hosted the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and — for the first time — international partners and allies to integrate technologies and test multi-domain operations during its yearly modernization experiment.

The Army’s third annual Project Convergence put the service’s range and capabilities to the test in the fall with a series of experiments and events held at multiple locations. Warfighters from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia spent weeks testing approximately 300 technologies and new operational concepts to demonstrate how the services might one day fight as a joint force.

“We’re going to fight together as allies and partners, and we’re going to fight together as a joint force,” Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville said Nov. 9 during a meeting with reporters.

The Army’s Project Convergence experiment is the service’s version of joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2. The concept seeks to connect sensors and shooters from all the services and domains — including air, land, sea, cyber and space — under a single network.

Artificial intelligence will be able to quickly identify targets and recommend actions based on the data analyzed.

Each of the services is funding and managing individual programs to develop JADC2. The Air Force calls its version the Advanced Battle Management System, and the Navy has Project Overmatch. The Army plans to host Project Convergence experiments for 10 years.

The technologies the Army tested during this year’s experiment included long-range fires, unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous fighting vehicles and next-generation sensors.

The experiment was divided into two scenarios that focused on separate environments where all-domain command and control will give the Pentagon an edge during future operations, said Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements for the Air Force.

“These scenarios are really helpful in giving us a learning opportunity in what would be, I think, very realistic and very challenging types of combat,” he told reporters.

This year, the United Kingdom and Australia brought their own technologies and warfighters to participate in both Project Convergence scenarios, while representatives from Canada, France, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand were invited to observe.

“Warfighting in the future is going to require collaboration. We’re going to need to collaborate across countries, but also across domains and across technology,” said Alex Chalk, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for defence procurement.

Scenario Alpha had nearly 3,000 participants arrayed in the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii, as well as in Japan, the Philippines and Australia, said Lt. Gen. Scott McKean, deputy commanding general for Army Futures Command and the director of the Army’s Futures and Concepts Center.

The experiment demonstrated how the services and allies could establish an integrated air-and-missile defense system and provide joint fires at a significant range in the Indo-Pacific, he said.

This allowed the services and allies to form kill webs — multipath, multi-directional and resilient attack structures — instead of linear kill chains, he added.

“That’s a pretty significant difference because being interoperable — only being able to share data — is insufficient as we start looking at the potential threats in the future,” McKean said. “What we are striving for is objective integration — moving data at machine speed to be able to address the threats or take on the threats for the missions that we have.”

As the Pentagon shifts its focus to addressing emerging threats from China and the possibility of conflict in the Indo-Pacific, the Army believes its main role would be providing long-range precision fires as an option for combatant commanders, McConville said.

This could be a hypersonic missile able to fly at a speed of Mach 5 or higher, a mid-range fires capability that can sink ships, or the Army’s precision strike missile, or PrSM, currently under development, he said.

“That will be a part of the Joint Force and working with our joint partners to integrate our sensors and our shooters to make sure that we have a robust air-and-missile defense capability,” he added.

The second experiment of Project Convergence, Scenario Bravo, focused on a contested land-based environment similar to the European theater. The scenario tested a number of robotic and autonomous capabilities and how data can be shared between the services and international allies.

During Scenario Bravo, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles were sent to collect data and execute fires before troops entered the area, said Lt. Col. Brennan Speakes, commander for the U.S. Army’s 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, which participated in the demonstration.

“Overall, these assets that we used during PC 22 allowed us to reduce the risk to our soldiers while still being able to collect information about the enemy,” Speakes said.

For example, the British army sent two UAVs — the Watchkeeper WK450 and the RQ-20 Puma — to conduct an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission on a potential target.

Data from the drones were passed to both the United States and the United Kingdom, and operators used ZODIAC — a British system that employs artificial intelligence for data processing and sharing — to conduct further planning.

The U.S. Army also equipped a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a technology demonstrator for the small class of air-launched effects, or ALE. The drones, which also come in a large class, are designed to be released midair from an aircraft, such as the Army’s upcoming Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.

The ALE are preprogrammed with a specific mission set, ranging from area reconnaissance to delivering lethal effects, Col. Chad Chasteen, director of operations for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift plan, said during the demonstration. If a mission set changes while in flight, ALE can be reprogrammed for new conditions, he added.

“ALE is not a dumb drone but a sophisticated unmanned system equipped with artificial intelligence agents that enable advanced teaming and cooperative behaviors,” Chasteen said. “They communicate, cooperate and stalk prey like a team — like a wolfpack.”

The United States also experimented with drone swarm capabilities. Soldiers used the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics, or OFFSET, to observe the target and destroy parts of it using low-collateral effects from dozens of drones flying in the sky. OFFSET could also be used to block off roads or to create portable minefields, Speakes noted.

In addition, Australia deployed a collaborative drone swarm to conduct reconnaissance. The capability is one half of an Australian Defense Science and Technology Group program that aims to create a swarm of drones that can act as sensors or shooters, said Lt. Col. Stuart Purves, the Australian army’s liaison officer to Army Futures Command.

“It’s a first of [its] kind concept demonstration of how we can share Australian sensor data directly to the supported U.S. force on a common tactical network,” Purves said during the experiment.

Plenty of robots were on the ground, as well. The United Kingdom sent out its Robotics and Autonomous Systems Platoon for reconnaissance and logistical support, while the Army deployed a group of remote-controlled ground vehicles called Combat Vehicle Robotics.

The U.S. Army also showcased a prototype of the Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher — a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS — modified with hardware and software to enable remote-controlled or autonomous operations.

Along with unmanned capabilities, the participating nations experimented with real-time multinational data sharing using the Secure Handhelds on Assured Resilient networks at the tactical Edge, a communication device developed by DARPA.

The device streamlines communications between partners and the Joint Force to shape a common operating picture, Speakes said. It was used during Scenario Bravo to send data from Australia’s drone swarm to U.S. operators, as well as to handoff targets between American and British soldiers on the ground.

“This asset provided me situational awareness of our forces, as well as our partners’ assets,” he said. “As we look at this crowded battlefield, it gives me a much better idea of where do I need to continue to focus my effort and where do my allies have already covered.”

The United States and Australia also demonstrated data sharing at extended ranges. U.S. sensors were able to pass targeting information to Australian forces, said Brig. Gen. Warren Gould, the director general of systems and integration with the land capability division of the Australian army.

“Doing that electronically for the first time with humans [in] the loop approving that information flow all the way into Australia — that led to a live-fire mission in Australia, which was an outstanding first for us,” he told reporters.

While both scenarios showed progress with integration and data sharing, it has created a new problem for the Army: too much data from multiple sensors overwhelming operators.

“We haven’t been able to correlate and fuse it in the way that we want to provide it to the warfighter,” the Air Force’s Hinote said. “A few years ago, we wouldn’t have had that problem because we wouldn’t be talking to each other.”

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said a big challenge moving forward will be understanding how the Army can process data quickly while also providing adequate training for future commanders.

“I think we did see some real improvements in terms of how quickly we were able to take information and change it into sort of what I would call more actionable knowledge,” she told reporters. “But the other thing I think … commanders are going to have to figure out is: What are the critical information requirements that they need so that they’re not overwhelmed by that data?”

Meanwhile, the Army also experimented with different ways to conduct predictive logistics during distributed and large-scale combat operations during both of Project Convergence 22’s scenarios.

In future battlefields, the Army will serve as a primary provider for logistics to the Joint Force, Lt. Gen. Charles Hamilton, deputy chief of staff for Army logistics, told reporters. As the service becomes more data-centric, that data needs to be used to inform sustainment.

At Project Convergence 22, the service examined autonomous multi-domain distribution technologies that can be used to dispatch supplies in a contested environment, how additive manufacturing could bolster supply chains at the tactical edge, and the Army’s ability to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable predictive logistics.

Even with the new challenges brought on by this year’s Project Convergence, leaders are optimistic for how future experiments will continue informing JADC2.

“This is going to give us a decisive edge on the battlefield,” McConville said. “The ability to bring together the sensors of all the services, along with our allies and partners, the ability to bring together our lethal weapon systems integrated through our command-and-control systems, I think is going to provide us a significant capability on the battlefield.”

Topics: Army News

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