During six weeks of experimentation with over 110 new technologies, Project Convergence (PC) 21 blended developmental and operational testing for what may be key elements of the future force.
The work done at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) at PC 21 will influence modernization and Army doctrine for years to come.
Army senior leaders say the nation is at an inflection point and that successful deterrence against near-peer adversaries with the ability to conduct large-scale combat operations will require long-range precision fires, autonomous capability, and leveraging of other new technologies across all of the Department of Defense’s military branches.
“What we look for is speed, range, and convergence of our systems so we will have the overmatch we need to actually deter some of these strategic competitors,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville in remarks to the media at YPG on November 9. “We’re doing it working together as a joint force. We’re going to do it together working as a combined force with allies and partners.”
Again likening the significance of PC with the Louisiana Maneuvers, which prepared American Soldiers of the early 1940s for eventual participation in World War II, McConville praised the proving ground’s personnel.
“They have been tremendous in enabling us to do all of the tests that we had,” he said. “This is a superb workforce that is very, very professional. In the area, they have gone out of their way to support this rather significant operation, and I think it is reasons like that that people want to come to Yuma.”
“One thing about both Yuma and White Sands that enables what we are doing is the test infrastructure,” added Gen. John Murray, commander of the Army Futures Command (AFC). “We had over 300 data collectors on the ground. It’s not over today, we’re going to spend the next few months digging through data to make sure we understand what worked and what didn’t work.”
With between 1,500 and 2,000 additional personnel on the ground at any given time throughout the six weeks of experimentation, PC 21 proceeded flawlessly thanks to more than a year of pre-planning, even as the vagaries of natural environment testing caused numerous schedule changes.
“I think we did a pretty good job understanding what the general intent was,” said Kermit Okamura, YPG Munitions and Weapons Division Director. “The day-to-day changes is the hard part to account for.”
YPG’s senior leaders observed that PC 21 was substantially larger in both scope and ambition than the previous year’s inaugural event, both within the boundaries of YPG and at sister installation White Sands Missile Range.
“PC 20 was mostly scientists and engineers running the whole show trying to figure out whether this technology worked,” said Todd Hudson, director of YPG’s Technology and Investments Directorate. “PC 21 had a much larger Soldier and joint force component integrated into the operations. It was an expanded event with much more complexity and way more technologies than PC 20.”
Meanwhile, the proving ground’s normal testing workload—about 1.8 million direct labor hours last fiscal year—had continued throughout the year.
“YTC did a great job of de-conflicting with other customers,” said Hudson. “Any time we had a gap where we weren’t focused on PC, we executed other tests for the Army or Department of Defense. That worked seamlessly.”
Successfully hosting the massive event took the participation of all of 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,” said Jacob Obradovich, YPG’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team (CFT) Integrator. “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.”
PC 21 saw a slew of firsts. For the first time ever, each branch of United States Armed Forces tested their sensor-to-sensor capabilities in tandem, and more than a few of the equipment tests associated with the multiple CFTs that participated in PC were groundbreaking in their own right. A new Gatling-style 20mm machine gun that could serve as rotary cannon on the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft was integrated into a UH-60 Blackhawk serving as a surrogate and fired in flight for the first time here. Additionally, aviation testers demonstrated flying a legacy UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter completely autonomously.
A key part of the testing was the participation of hundreds of uniformed personnel, including the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, who lived in tents on YPG’s forward operating base across the six weeks of use studies. This aspect of PC 21 was coordinated by YPG’s Training and Exercise Management Office (TEMO).
“TEMO is able to coordinate and execute a large scale exercise, allowing the technical experts to concentrate on the technical aspects of the test while TEMO takes care of building a camp that is logical and sustainable, feeding people, and other housekeeping tasks,” said Luis Arroyo, TEMO manager. “TEMO maintains that proficiency by hosting training events routinely at YPG.”
In fact, as equipment and personnel for PC 21 began to arrive at the proving ground, TEMO was still hosting a pair of Marine Corps infantry companies participating in their service’s semiannual Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, as well as other ongoing training such as the counter-unmanned aerial systems school.
“PC 20 gave us a template of things we could expect,” said Arroyo. “The learning curve was shallower since we’ve developed a working relationship with the Joint Modernization Command and AFC. We can think like our customers and even predict what their needs might be.”
COVID was still a threat that had to be considered throughout the event, but with much of the workforce vaccinated the mitigations were more muted for PC 21, in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that had relaxed since the previous year’s iteration. However, safety in the extreme desert environment testing inherently dangerous, sometimes experimental, weaponry and heavy equipment was still paramount. Operations were conducted on far-flung locations across YPG’s rugged ranges. In keeping with YPG’s longstanding reputation, the entire PC project was conducted without reportable injuries, despite a multitude of hazards for the visiting personnel. The lack of injuries was credited to daily safety briefings and frequent reminders throughout the day.
“I think our great Yuma community should be proud of the YPG workforce,” said Col. Patrick McFall, YPG commander. “They performed. They are on the national stage, and the Army and joint force saw how they performed.”