YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — A future conflict with near-peer adversaries could unfold over vast distances.
At Project Convergence 21 (PC 21), U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) served as staging ground for a blending of developmental and operational testing for what may be key elements of the future force.
The installation actively supported each of the Army Futures Command's eight Cross Functional Teams (CFTs), all of which seek to retain overmatch with near-peer adversaries in a high intensity conflict while maintaining the competency in waging irregular warfare that has been achieved since the 9/11 attacks.
With well over 100 different technologies put through their paces in weeks of realistic use cases conducted by members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as well as uniformed personnel from the other DoD services, YPG played host to the largest Joint Force experiment of the last 15 years.
Whether it was long-range artillery, autonomous vehicles, or Soldier systems like the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, all of the technologies had one common factor necessary to be used to their full capabilities in combat.
“You have to have a really robust, stable, and reliable network,” said Travis Thompson, Deputy Director of the Soldier Lethality CFT. “That is really key.”
Some of the systems under test at PC 21 were prototypes, and many weren’t necessarily designed to be interoperable.
“The beauty of Project Convergence also creates the greatest network challenges,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Kirchhoff, air-ground integration lead. “We’re taking things in very early maturity, connecting them together, and understanding how they work. A lot of these things had never been out of the lab until we brought them out for Project Convergence.”
Not only did testers have to integrate these diverse technologies into a tactical network, they had to collect data on their performance during multiple use trials that simulated battlefield operations. Though they had to do certain workarounds in cases to collect data, testers gained valuable insights into how to integrate things later on.
“Being able to do those type of experiments out here helped us understand the tradeoffs that were involved,” said Kirchhoff. “As we continue to hone our waveforms, we can do it in such a way that we can predict the operational impacts of adding extra resiliency.”
The testers gave YPG high marks in providing them a natural environment testing center, which provided far more robust test and learning opportunities than would be possible using a conditioning chamber.
“You’re not seeing yourself in a lab the same way you see yourself in an open-air environment when you’re against the adversary’s threat,” said Benjamin Pinx, DEVCOM experimentation chief. “When you are exposed to that, you know exactly where you are at in your technology development and can get some quick turns to mature yourself faster.”
“One of the things we saw here on the ground was a firmware update during one of the denied engagements where they significantly improved the ability to have control of another system,” added Col. Eric Van Den Bosch, chief of staff for operations of Network CFT. “They made an update on the fly and we were able to get a significant distance increase after that update.”
Each Department of Defense service branch has its own network and mission set specific to what it is supposed to do. Successful joint integration of these disparate networks is vital for the success of American forces in any potential future conflict with near-peer adversaries.
“The standards between us, the Navy, and Marines aren’t always the same, and the architecture isn’t always compatible,” said Kirchhoff. “Through some workarounds and engineering we were able to make them work. Common standards are critical, and understanding the architecture and interfaces is the thing that will get us to better joint integration.”