As the U.S. Army revs up new tech demonstrations at Project Convergence 2021, this year’s iteration of the Army’s six-week capstone experiment designed to rigorously test the viability and Joint interoperability of ultramodern warfare tools, Army Futures Command leaders are sharing key Project Convergence insights with attendees of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) 2021 Annual Meeting & Exposition in Washington, D.C.
“At its heart, Project Convergence is what we call a campaign of learning,” explained Gen. John M. Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command.
Murray emphasized that while many individuals focus on the novel technology aspects of the command’s flagship modernization campaign, which launched in 2020, Project Convergence “is more than just the technology.” Instead, it is an avenue through which the Army is assessing “how we will have to fight differently in the future.”
“Technology will enable us to fight differently as we approach the future, and how we fight differently is going to drive us to different structures in the United States Army,” Murray clarified. This means the Army is looking to determine, in part through the lens of new technologies, “structures that are no longer valuable, units that are no longer valuable on a future battlefield, units that will have to be modified and units that will have to be created.”
Project Convergence is “truly an experimentation to inform,” added Lt. Gen. James M. Richardson, deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command and the exercise director for Project Convergence 2021.
Richardson underscored the importance of applying lessons learned through Project Convergence to the Army’s science and technology investments and highlighted the inherently multi-phase nature of the project. “It’s just not a single event,” Richardson said. “We have had 22 events this year that have led up to Project Convergence 21.”
“It’s Soldiers, in the dirt, with scientists, looking at these technologies,” Richardson elaborated. “Some things are going to work, and some things are not going to work.”
Understanding what does not work well early on is allowing the Army to save on costs and accelerate truly useful modernization advances.
Murray and Richardson, along with Navy and defense industry panelists, detailed the parameters of Project Convergence and discussed challenges and opportunities along the Army’s modernization journey during an AUSA 2021 Contemporary Military Forum titled “Project Convergence: A Campaign of Linked Experimentation and Learning.”
The forum, held Oct. 12, additionally explored what the Army and Joint Force hope to gain from Project Convergence 2021, also known as PC21, which takes place this month and next, primarily at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, and White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Participants in the experiment – which seeks to not only identify the most promising solutions but also knock out preliminary tools and technologies that fail to perform – include members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force.
Army Futures Command leaders shared that they plan to incorporate Joint Force and Coalition Force members into the 2022 version of the large-scale exercise.
Army Futures Command’s eight Cross-Functional Teams, which help fuel modernization priorities such as next-generation combat vehicles and future vertical lift by developing capability documents and conducting technical demonstrations to inform Army acquisition needs, will also participate in the demonstration, which is Army-led but Joint Force in nature.
The Army plans to explore seven use cases during PC21, including use cases that address Joint All-Domain situational awareness, air and missile defense and long range-precision fires, which remains the Army’s top modernization priority.
The use cases represent “seven Joint problems that we think future Joint Force commanders are going to face on a modern battlefield, regardless of where that battlefield is in the world,” Murray said. The intent of the exercise, however, is not “to take the place of the Joint staff effort, in either Joint Warfighting Concept or Joint All-Domain Command and Control; it is to inform it from the ground up.”
“We see value in the services coming together – in the dirt, not on PowerPoint, in the dirt – and informing the concepts that will be critical for the Joint staff to deliver in the future,” Murray said.
“PC21 really builds toward the idea of a Joint operating system, to bridge the services with the COCOMs – common platforms, shared apps, a single data fabric giving that Joint Force commander options,” Richardson added.
Decision aids for humans and autonomous systems are among the more than 100 technologies slated to be tested during PC21, in acknowledgement of how sharpening the speed and accuracy with which decisions are made can hone military advantages.
“I do believe, and I think the Army believes, that a commander on a future battlefield that can see, understand and decide faster than an opponent will have a distinct tactical, if not operational, advantage,” Murray stated.
Navy Commander Rollie Wicks noted that the Navy and Marine Corps’ ongoing Project Overmatch contributes to Joint All-Domain Command and Control objectives in the same vein as Project Convergence:
“We’re leveraging the capabilities of our Joint partners to be able to become a more lethal force, by tying together the right sensors, the right shooters, with the right command and control,” said Wicks. “We’re thinking about new ways to fight on the battlefield of tomorrow.”
Industry experts participating in the panel illustrated how the defense industry is a critical player in helping to refine and scale Army and Joint Force innovations.
“We have to build incredible systems that are resilient, reliable, trustworthy and are going to give our military, the people who are serving, the confidence that those systems are going to support them at the time when they need it the most,” said Chris Lynch, CEO and co-founder of Rebellion Defense. Lynch added that a crucial part of this process involves having the “courage” to recognize when something “is no longer serving our purpose” and is “not going to take us into where we need to be in a future strategic competition.” It also involves tackling problems head-on; “If we don’t do it, we cede our strategic advantage, so we need to go do it. We can’t look at the problem and talk about it, we have to go solve things.”
Aurora Taylor-Rojas, vice president of engineering and technology at L3Harris Technologies, described the ability to “fail fast and learn from that” as an asset and stressed the criticality of ensuring experimentation leads regularly and quickly to the development of specific acquisition requirements. “Without that focus, without the requirement, there’s too much room for a lot of wasted time, effort, investment and energy.”
Panelists also discussed the importance of achieving data convergence and a fully unified network, enhancing the overall connectivity of operational systems available to Joint Force personnel, ensuring equipment that is no longer effective is divested in a timely manner and making pathways to working with the Army and Defense Department easier – all aims aided substantially by the multifaceted efforts of Project Convergence.
In short, Project Convergence “gets us beyond what is today and what can be tomorrow, and begins to force us to think about what could be as we move into the future,” Murray summarized.