ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Connecting Australia and the United Kingdom to laboratories and operational unit locations across the United States, the U.S. Army, joint services and partner nations recently completed a critical communications exercise in advance of Project Convergence 22, or PC 22, this fall.
Known as COMMEX 1B, the three-week event included more than 50 technologies and aimed to replicate the scale and scenarios of PC22 in a distributed laboratory and field setting. By integrating these systems in advance, the Army verified that participants — including coalition partners — can conduct information exchanges required for PC22 and potential future conflicts.
“It’s about the future, and it’s about testing ourselves and challenging ourselves,” said U.K. Brigadier Stefan Crossfield, head information exploitation and chief data officer, British Army. “Convergence is the point at which you begin to surface those places where we don’t connect, prior to actually going to fight together. Beyond that, it challenges us to transform — digital transformation is a very big challenge, but we recognize the world is changing.”
PC22 is the third in the Army Futures Command-led series of Project Convergence events and the first to include both joint and multinational partners, with the U.K. and Australia participating and Canada observing. Focusing on scenarios for both the Indo-Pacific and European theaters and tying together locations across California, Washington State, and Hawaii, the experiment will enable the U.S. Army, joint and multinational partners to assess future warfighting concepts and capabilities.
The backbone of the exercise is a tactical communications network that not only integrates current Army mission command capabilities with emerging technologies under development, but also facilitates information-sharing with joint and coalition partners to enable a common operating picture and sensor-to-shooter connectivity.
“We’re never going to fight alone — we’re always going to be with our joint and coalition partners,” said Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of AFC’s Network Cross-Functional Team. “So we want the effects to be: If they’re in the best area to shoot, we want them to shoot.”
To prepare the PC network for the operational capstone exercise in the fall, the Army conducts a series of risk reduction events and COMMEXs leading up to the event. For COMMEX 1B, the hub was in the Combined Joint Systems Integration Laboratory, or CJSIL, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, with extension to Fort Bliss, Texas, the United Kingdom, Australia, and several other Army labs and unit locations.
“This COMMEX is the most distributed COMMEX we’ve done yet for Project Convergence,” said Lt. Col. Nate Saul, PC communications planner for AFC’s Joint Modernization Command. “That’s important because the actual execution of Project Convergence is very distributed. You'll have systems and people at Camp Pendleton, California; you'll have people and systems at Fort Irwin, California; you’ll have Corps headquarters that are in different time zones. So we need to know how to work distributed, and develop the tools and relationships to do that.”
The CJSIL, stood up between PC20 and PC21, has evolved to now include connections not only with joint service laboratories, but also coalition locations and systems. That allows operators and researchers to concurrently conduct distributed laboratory and field experiments that mimic PC’s speed, scale and range, and identify any issues before they become problems and threats, said Seth Spoenlein, Assistant Director of Engineering and Systems Integration for AFC’s DEVCOM Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center — shortened as C5ISR.
“The CJSIL allows us to test systems early, often and effectively, because the last place you want to find out that your technology doesn’t work is in the field,” he said. “We are saving money, time, and potentially lives with the preemptive work we’re accomplishing in the lab each day.”
Beyond risk reduction, COMMEXs directly inform the concept, prototyping and integration of future technologies, including for mission partners, said Joseph Welch, Director, C5ISR Center.
For example, the U.S., U.K. and Australia used the COMMEX to experiment with software that provides a common operational picture capability across joint and coalition forces, enabling them to share the most current battlefield data and facilitate rapid decision-making. These capabilities will continue to mature through PC23 and beyond, enabling further interoperability and the convergence of effects across all domains — air, land, sea, space and cyber — to increase operational tempo and advantage over adversaries, officials said.
“The fourth industrial revolution is changing the nature of warfare, and it will become really well connected, with data flowing across all the different functions,” Crossfield said. “If we can build up a pervasive network that we can use to fight with, then it opens up all other opportunities. It’s challenging technically, that’s for sure, and this is an example of how we go after that.”