Project Convergence, the Army’s campaign of learning, has returned to U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, and is making history once again.
For the first time ever, every branch of the United States’ armed forces are testing their sensor-to-sensor capabilities in tandem.
In addition to representation from all branches of the military, this year’s iteration features all eight of the Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams (CFTs). There is also a dramatically larger Soldier presence.
Among these CFTs is the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), which seeks to procure a variety of new combat vehicles and capabilities, including the ability to operate unmanned.
The scope and scale of the demonstration, involving experimentation with novel technologies that included multiple locations hosting autonomous vehicle testing simultaneously on YPG’s vast desert ranges, meant far more extensive planning, site reconnaissance, and security planning prior to the event.
“We’re supporting a wide variety of platforms out here,” said Jacob Obradovich, NGCV Cross Functional Team Integrator. “Some of them have very minimal footprints, some are very large truck and trailer assemblies driving unmanned down the YPG roads. We’re doing some unprecedented stuff.”
“There are several gun positions that our Munitions and Weapons Division typically uses that we’re utilizing for PC 21,” he added. “It really provides an organic, realistic mission-based approach to the scenarios that we are executing. Rather than having multiple disjointed efforts, it flows geographically in time and space.”
The complexity of these realistic scenarios required months of pre-planning to ensure they were conducted safely.
“Our safety posture has been a big game changer,” said Obradovich. “We did a lot of good strategic planning ahead of the game and worked with the tech sponsors and our partners at AFC to really identify a safe game plan that met the mission requirements.”
YPG’s large range and extremely isolated geographic location far away from any populated areas is a major advantage to conducting these realistic demonstrations safely. Nonetheless, the safety planning was still a complex operation.
“There are a slew of considerations you have to look at: what kind of safety systems are in place, and what is the maturity level of the safety systems that are built in? Where can you put these vehicles to minimize environmental and infrastructure damage if they don’t behave like they are supposed to?”
During the actual period of experimentation in October and November, 60-hour work weeks were standard for many of the supporting YPG personnel, and some workers even exceeded that.
“Honestly, a 60-hour week seems shorter than a normal 40-hour week just because of everything that is going on and all of the moving parts,” said Cesar Ramirez, team leader. “It’s for a short period of time, not the whole year, so I’m not concerned about getting burned out.”
Despite all of the intensive planning prior to the event, inevitably there were unforeseen needs that occurred. YPG’s extensive test infrastructure, experienced personnel, and institutional knowledge made filling these needs virtually seamless as they occurred.
“We do our best to try to accommodate spontaneous requirements, whether it is carpenters, gunners, observers, data collectors,” said Ramirez. “There’s a lot of convergence that has to occur, for lack of a better word.”
The test personnel were also excited to work with a large contingent of Soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division that were on-site supporting the demonstration this year.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to be able to use some of these new technologies and provide feedback to the developers, and a great opportunity for our personnel to see the end user,” said Obradovich. “Sometimes you have to wait several years before a regularly-scheduled operational test event occurs to get that kind of feedback, but here they have been able to get that valuable feedback early on in the development cycle.”
“These Soldiers are out in the field and actually see how it is,” added Ramirez. “It’s good to have multiple perspectives.”
The complex scenarios involving hundreds of Soldiers and test personnel have been carried out successfully and without injury.
“The execution that we’ve done to date is a testament to the ingenuity of our test officers,” said Obradovich. “Their experience is coming through, especially working hand-in-hand with the systems’ safety engineers to find ways to safely conduct the tests.”
Obradovich adds that the effort’s success also depended on extensive support from multiple organizations within YPG.
“All the different sections of YPG have contributed, whether it is the resource management folks getting funding squared away or the network enterprise folks supporting us way out in remote parts of the range: it’s a major muscle movement for the organization as a whole. The organization has really come together to make this a success. It’s a testament to our personnel’s can-do attitude and dedication to the Warfighter and mission.”