YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — Connecting sensors to shooters across vast distances. Weaving together mission-critical message threads for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Providing commanders with a “single pane of glass” to visualize critical battlefield data and act decisively.
This is the role of the Army’s network as the Army’s Project Convergence 21 capstone experiment gets underway.
“The Army network may not be our official number one priority, but it underpins all of our modernization efforts,” Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville said this week. “It must be resilient, reliable, and operate and endure in a contested environment. This is the heart of Project Convergence.”
Project Convergence is the Army’s signature campaign of learning designed to advance and integrate the Army’s contribution to Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). It requires a network to integrate weapons systems and command and control systems, communicate with the Joint Force and rapidly and continuously integrate effects so the Army can act faster and more effectively than the adversary.
The Army’s network at Project Convergence 21 (PC21) is designed for experimentation, supporting operational scenarios across the spectrum from competition to crisis to conflict. During the PC21 capstone event at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the Army and Joint service partners will assess key network capabilities that increase communications resiliency, range extension, and data management.
With more than 110 different technologies participating — many of them newly emerging — it is critical to properly integrate systems across the PC21 network not only to provide information to warfighters executing the PC21 mission, but also for the Army to understand technology performance after the event concludes.
“Our priority is a good test run of what these technologies might bring to the future of the Army, and what holes can be filled for the next iteration,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Reyes, information series technician with the 82nd Airborne Division, who is supporting network operations at PC21. “It’s bringing it all together to utilize all capabilities, across all domains including cyber, and presenting it to the commander in a digestible format so he can make informed decisions.”
As Project Convergence has evolved from 2020’s inaugural, Army-only event to incorporate joint service partners in 2021, the experiment provides a rare opportunity to put Joint systems side by side in an operational environment and determine the best ways to deliver information supporting JADC2, officials said.
“It’s important that we leverage a redundant communications network — take advantage of the sensors [the services] have integrated together, share that data rapidly and send that data to the right shooters,” said Navy Cdr. Rollie Wicks, a requirements officer for artificial intelligence and machine learning at the Navy Digital Warfare Office who is a liaison with the Army for Project Convergence. “We are taking great steps – there is a growing list of ‘firsts’ we are accomplishing.”
Working side by side with Army and Joint service network experts are Soldiers like Reyes from the 82nd Airborne Division and the Multi Domain Task Force, who are using Project Convergence to experiment with new technologies and tactics. Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, 82nd Airborne Division Commander, said he is passionate about identifying ways to better share information and execute mission command.
“PC21 is about convergence and getting commanders at all echelons to start to see exactly what’s going on, [in] as real-time as possible,” Donahue said. “Without that network, it’s not going to work.”
While the Army does not expect every system and scenario at Project Convergence to run seamlessly, it was able to reduce risk by executing several lab-based communications exercises in advance of the capstone event, leaders said. For example, the variety of messaging formats and complexity of data connections across the network have increased significantly with the addition of Joint service partners, said Lt. Gen. Jim Richardson, Deputy Commanding General for Army Futures Command (AFC), which manages Project Convergence.
“It’s all about data and how that data flows,” he said. “That’s what this team has worked through.”
Richardson emphasized that technologies that demonstrate operational merit and technology readiness during PC21 will be poised to transition and scale from Army science and technology development into potential production with a program office or industry partner. For the network, priority technologies for near-term transition include multi-path satellite connectivity through low-earth orbit and medium-earth orbit capabilities, as well as data fabric technologies that improve data discovery, synchronization and security while paving the way for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to be more effective on the battlefield, leaders said.
“We need data fabric in order to have the machine learning and AI [tools] to actually aggregate that data and present it to the commander when necessary,” said Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, Director of the Network Cross-Functional Team within AFC. “This will enable decisions at the speed of relevance for the future.”
In addition to data management and increased communications robustness and resiliency, other network technology focus areas for PC21 include range extension using aerial tier networking and energy efficiency through enhanced command post power solutions.
Rey said what the Army learns at PC21 will be critical to designing the objective state of the future network, as well as increased interoperability with coalition partners participating in PC22. It will also inform the Army’s tactical network Capability Sets, which are fielded to units on a two-year, iterative cycle, and which share many of the network baseline systems participating in PC.
“You have to make it work with what we have today before we can transform for tomorrow,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Reyes said. “We are trying to lay the foundation.”