AFC’s persistent experimentation campaign moves to Europe

By Jonathan KoesterSeptember 11, 2023

Multi-Domain Task Force Soldiers conduct Exercise Arcane Thunder
U.S. Army Soldiers with the Electromagnetic Activities Company, 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force, and contractors operate an unmanned aerial surveillance system during exercise Arcane Thunder in Ustka, Poland Aug. 29. Soldiers were trained in the planning of Aerostat operations, launch operations, and recovery actions to inform new tactics to enable multi-domain concepts. Exercise Arcane Thunder is part of the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence – Europe campaign to evaluate the progress of the service’s modernization efforts. This exercise will validate and test the continuous integration of effects in various domains including air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alex Soliday) VIEW ORIGINAL

GERMANY — After spending much of the year focused on forces in the Pacific, Army Futures Command’s campaign of persistent experimentation moved to Europe in September as observers from the Army Modernization Enterprise, led by the Joint Modernization Command, assessed activities in Germany, Poland and Romania during Project Convergence-Europe/Arcane Thunder 23.

AT23 was led by the 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force and took place from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, 2023, in Mainz-Kastel, Germany; Ustka, Poland; and Mihail, Romania. With AT23 complete, JMC has now observed all three Multi-Domain Task Forces this year. JMC observed the capabilities and concepts of the 1st MDTF during Joint Warfighting Assessment 23 in the Philippines in the spring, followed by a look at the 3rd MDTF in Alaska during Project Convergence-Pacific/Northern Edge 23.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity during the past four months to have seen every MDTF and to help them and learn from them as we try to deliver the Army of 2030,” said Capt. Jake Cariker, the sustainment assessment lead in JMC’s operations group A. “The MDTFs are one of the most forward-leaning Army organizations; they are focused on 2030, and they’re trying to achieve 2030 now. So, it’s an amazing opportunity to come work with them.”

During these persistent experimentation events, JMC assembles a team of experts from across the Army’s Centers of Excellence who are able to provide bespoke insights to the Army Modernization Enterprise, as well as to the participating units, said Col. Zachary Miller, JMC commander.

“It’s been important to take emerging capabilities that our Army is developing and see how innovative organizations like the 2nd MDTF are applying them to the operational problems they face in Europe,” Miller said. “We’re also sharing our observations of the 1st and 3rd MDTFs with this one as they build out their formation. This cross-pollination of ideas, shared challenges and solutions is valuable to the MDTFs and the commands they support.”

The MDTFs are the newest formation in the Army as the service works to implement the concept of multi-domain operations, combining effects from across the land, sea, air, space and cyberspace domains. Arcane Thunder was the first large-scale exercise for the 2nd MDTF, said Col. Patrick Moffett, commander of the 2nd MDTF, headquartered in Germany. The 56th Artillery Command, the higher command for 2nd MDTF, also participated in the exercise.

“As the Army transitions to large-scale combat operations and multi-domain operations, Arcane Thunder 23 is giving us the opportunity to test our ability to sense throughout all domains while forward deployed in both Poland and Romania, as well as from Germany.” Moffett said. “We’re able to test capabilities that have never been tested before, as well as train our Soldiers on how to utilize these new pieces of equipment. We’re also working with Project Convergence-Europe to ensure we are building the future systems that will support the European theater.”

Maj. Clifton Parker, Fires support coordinator for the 2nd MDTF, said the opportunity to learn from previous JMC assessments of MDTFs was important for his Soldiers.

“I think that’s the that’s the exciting part,” Parker said. “We’re trying to learn from our sister units. I don't think it’s about looking at how we’re different; it’s about what does an MDTF actually look like in order to provide the best capability we can for the combatant commander. AT23 is great opportunity to leverage and bring together the Joint force and experiment with how to operate between land component, air, maritime, space and cyberspace. And doing that with our NATO allies, as well.”

DV Day - Arcane Thunder 23
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Andrew C. Gainey, commander, 56th Artillery Command, speaks to Col. Zachary Miller, commander, Joint Modernization Command, on distinguished visitors’ day while observing artillery static displays during Arcane Thunder 23 at Capu Midia Training Center, Romania, Sept. 4, 2023. Arcane Thunder 23 is a 2ndMulti-Domain Task Force exercise taking place with U.S. Army and multinational partners from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, 2023, in Mainz-Kastel, Germany; Ustka, Poland; and MKAB. As part of the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence - Europe campaign to evaluate the progress of the service’s modernization efforts, this exercise will validate and test the continuous integration of effects in various domains, including air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Erick Yates) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the three Army MDTFs assess and experiment with how the formation should be used and what capabilities each should have, JMC observers/assessors provide unbiased feedback to help leaders understand how the future force should be provisioned, said Lt. Col. Aaron Ritzema, commander of the 2nd Multi-Domain Effects Battalion, 2nd MDTF. Ritzema and the 2nd MDEB participated in AT23 in Poland.

“Having JMC on the ground will help give us an external evaluation and assessment of how we are operating as a battalion and how we are approaching multi-domain operations as a whole,” Ritzema said. “JMC can also help provide us reach back into the larger Army Futures Command enterprise and inform future requirements and capability development in support of MDTF-specific and theater-specific materiel solutions.”

The Project Convergence-Europe assessment during AT23 was important because of the key Army transformation initiatives that the 2nd MDTF is a part of, Ritzema said.

“We are on the forefront of several Chief of Staff of the Army modernization objectives, to include leveraging commercial partners to test and experiment with emerging technology and improving how command posts can operate in a distributed and secure manner,” he said.

The observations and assessments from Project Convergence – Europe, combined with those from various other experiments and exercises in the past months, will all feed into the Project Convergence Capstone 4 experiment, Col. Miller said.

“The next major experimentational venue is Project Convergence Capstone 4 in early 2024, and the integration of MDTFs will be based on the learning we’ve done this year,” Miller said. “We’ll see them more fully integrated with the other services and able to generate more effects with multinational partners.”

Maj. Zach Quintana of JMC’s operations group A agreed that the past year of persistent experimentation will improve the quality of experimentation and lessons that come from the Project Convergence capstone event.

“AT23 will serve as a small facet to inform a much bigger picture and give us the ability to see ourselves as to where we’ve been, what we’ve learned over that time, and give us an azimuth check as to where we need to go in regard to concepts, capabilities and formations,” Quintana said.

The past year of persistent experimentation, both in the Pacific and Europe, will pay dividends as those lessons feed into PC Capstone 4, and Army transformation marches on as Army Futures Command focuses on delivering the Army of 2030 and designing the Army of 2040.