Communications Exercise helps prepare modernization enterprise for Project Convergence 21

By Jonathan KoesterJanuary 22, 2021

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Quinton Scherer, senior technical advisor, talks to Lt. Col. Nathan Saul, chief of integration and plans in JMC’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control division, on Jan. 13 in the C5ISR’s System Integration Lab on Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Photo by Justin Eimers / PEO C3T)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Quinton Scherer, senior technical advisor, talks to Lt. Col. Nathan Saul, chief of integration and plans in JMC’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control division, on Jan. 13 in the C5ISR’s System Integration Lab on Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Photo by Justin Eimers / PEO C3T) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Army Futures Command’s Project Convergence 21 will be focused on how the latest sensor to shooter network enables Multi Domain Operations and the Army’s modernization priorities. Providing a Joint Common Operational Picture that includes all five domains of warfare – air, land, sea, space and cyperspace – is a key need for the force of the future.

Project Convergence is the Army’s new campaign of learning, experimentation, and demonstration aimed at aggressively integrating the Army’s weapons systems and command and control systems with those of the rest of the Joint Force. PC21 will focus on informing, developing, and integrating an interoperable Joint Force that is capable of multi-domain operations at echelon.

In preparation for PC21, leaders from the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command (JMC) joined soldiers and civilians from the Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams in the first weeks of January at Aberdeen Proving Ground for the first of four planned communications exercises (COMMEXs) that will prepare the Army and the technologies for the event.

For PC21, the Army is beginning its preparation earlier than ever before and leveraging lessons learned from PC20. This includes the need to integrate systems sooner and conduct lab-based risk reduction events.

“During the lead up and throughout the execution of PC20, we were taking a close look at how data flows through the ground and sensor-to-shooter networks,” said Col. Curtis Nowak, JMC’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) Director. “Following PC20, the first step was to analyze the data collected and establish a baseline network for PC21, which is what we’re using as the cornerstone for the first communications exercise.”

The COMMEX, which took place at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR (Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Center’s Joint System Integration Lab, involved working with more than 25 of the communication systems that will be used at PC21.

As part of the Army’s commitment to JADC2, the Aberdeen Proving Ground C5ISR community has stood up a deliberate lab to support PC and the Joint Services, with a focus on integrating capability on the network and across all the modernization priorities. This COMMEX is the first time the Systems Integration Lab was operational.

“We have dozens of new technologies in play for PC21 and we will start integrating those throughout the next several months, ensuring we’ve got the sensor-to-shooter network right and that integration with our Joint partners is achieved,” Nowak said.

The COMMEX allowed network specialists to get an early check on some of the communication tools that will be used in PC21, said Lt. Col. Stephen Kirchhoff of the U.S. Army Network Cross-Function Team.

“The early integration of technologies and testing of machine-to-machine exchanges, allows us to identify interoperability issues early in the planning process,” Kirchhoff said.

Lt. Col. Nathan Saul, chief of integration and plans in JMC’s JADC2 division, said the two-week COMMEX allowed participants to, in a lab environment, begin experimenting with the tactical networks that reach out to the Soldiers.

“What we’re learning now is how the cross-domain solution functions, which is a key part of PC21,” Saul said. “We’re learning how the cross-domain solution works, what message traffic it works well with, what it is having issues with, and we’re working through that. It’s exciting to see how much AFC is bringing all of the different stakeholders together to work toward a common end. There’s definitely leader energy behind this, there’s emphasis on it and you can see how that leader energy is making our job on the ground easier.”

As the Project Convergence campaign of learning initiative continues to evolve, the Army will expand it. In PC21, for example, our Joint and sister services will participate, with the inclusion of coalition partners in 2022. Also in PC21, the Army will bring an operational component to the event with Soldiers from First Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division participating in not only the COMMEXs but also the full scale demonstration. This addition will provide the organizations bringing their technologies to bear at the event with real-time Soldier feedback.

“These are division- and corps-level units that have day-to-day operational missions, and they are taking the time to participate in COMMEX 1,” Saul said. “I think that’s exciting, and it’s a good sign of what’s to come. We need to take the momentum that we have, and the focus that we have, and build upon it.”

Although all the systems being used during COMMEX 1 were Army systems, Joint communication systems are the planned focus of PC21’s COMMEX 2.

“We learned a lot about the capabilities of the DEVCOM C5ISR’s Joint System Integration Lab, and we learned about ways we can work together that we hadn’t thought of before,” Saul said.

“PC21 is all about the art of the possible and fighting tomorrow or the day after,” Nowak added. “We know that warfare is constantly changing and technologies are coming to bear that require us to act faster, more efficiently and more effective while keeping Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen out of harms’ way.”

There are some big changes coming to PC21, with increased Joint services' participation topping the list. In addition, multiple Soldier touchpoints will be added to PC21, as well as additional mission thread scenarios and targets to engage. PC21 will include more than 70 new technologies, which will require detailed planning to incorporate. PC21 will take place in the fall of 2021.

While PC20 was a standalone demonstration, PC21 is being planned as part of an integrated series of linked experiments. Much of PC21 will again take place at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, with the addition of some elements taking place at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Some of the major linked experiments are JMC’s Joint Warfighting Assessment 21 and Defender 21 (Forager).

“This is not just PC20, which was us starting to crawl; we are starting to walk,” Lt. Gen. James Richardson, the deputy commander of Army Futures Command, said earlier this year. “More importantly, our joint partners are part of this. This is truly going to be a joint operation. I appreciate all the collaboration that’s been going on, but we really need to nail down what are the technologies we want to demonstrate with the other services.”