How can a simple term like “convergence” be confusing, even at the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army? Webster’s dictionary defines convergence as “1. The act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity,” and “4. The merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole.” Perhaps that last definition gives you a clue as to Defense programs for “convergence,” since my February 2020 column on JADC2 and my June 2020 column on C4ISR.
I think I have referred to the Army’s Futures Command1—stood up on July 1, 2018—in some of my other Defense Speaks columns. To link this to convergence is to get an idea of the six pillars of the Army Futures Command:
- Long-range precision fires
- Next-generation combat vehicle
- Future vertical lift platforms
- A mobile and expeditionary Army network
- Air and missile defense capabilities
- Soldier lethality
While much of the Army is focused on “being able to fight tonight or tomorrow, Futures Command is deliberately focused on future needs—artillery, tanks, helicopters in the first three pillars above. Of course, there is the needed coordination between all these future weapon systems, and even the other service branches.
Project Convergence to the Army is an extended field maneuver utilizing all the communication-based information between each new weapons system. That is, getting all the new weapons platforms working to play team warfare. Convergence has its roots back in a legendary wargames event in the Army—the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers at Fort Polk. Then, the U.S. was not yet involved in WWII, but had seen the offensive power of the German Blitzkrieg in action in Poland and France. The Army was about as unprepared as those countries were for blitzkrieg, but had the luxury of time to improve communications, start developing new weapons, and plan better tactics.
The first Army Project Convergence was in late 2020 at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona (and here you thought the Army was sitting still during the COVID problem in America). The key elements being tested were all electronic in nature: artificial intelligence, autonomy, and robotics in the air and on the ground2.
But the Army has a much more ambitious test planned later this fall, October 12 to November 10. Instead of just being at Yuma proving ground, the tests will run simultaneously at different bases. This time, there will be seven key elements instead of the three in 2020. And this time, Army will be inputting to the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) for all services. The 2021 activities highlighted the electronics component in these use cases3:
- Focus on maintaining joint all-domain situational awareness, including tapping space sensors in low Earth orbit.
- A joint air-and-missile defense engagement following an enemy missile attack.
- A joint fires operation as the force transitions from crisis to conflict.
- A focus on semiautonomous resupply.
- An experiment with an artificial intelligence- and autonomy-enabled reconnaissance mission.
- Essentially replay Edge 21, an Integrated Visual Augmentation System-enabled air assault mission, but with enhancements. IVAS is a heads-up display worn by soldiers that provides situational awareness.
- A mounted AI-enabled attack.
This will not be exclusively Army; the Air Force, Navy, and Marines will have a presence, especially with their systems that have sensors to feed information to the Army. Missile Defense Agency will do some data coordination for Convergence 2021.
Not all the DoD coordinated tests have been total, or even partial successes. Last October, just about the time the Army was running the first Convergence, Defense ran a war-game to simulate a battle over the island of Taiwan. The “red” team studied up the traditional Department of Defense tactics and quickly defeated the “blue” team by knocking out the “blue” team network access. The disjointed blue team “failed miserably,” in the words of John Hyten, the vice-chairman of staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Much of the 2020 wargame has not been disclosed, but the traditional concept of “gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.”4
And, if you thought that Project Convergence 2021 was a stopping point, think again. Army Futures Command is already thinking about 2022. Until December 1, 2021, they are soliciting the public for technology that might be demonstrated next year, including:
In summary, keep your ear to the electronics scoreboard, especially where Defense items are announced. Perhaps you can help keep score about what is working what has to go back to the electronics drawing board to help integrate massive sensor information, firepower, and battlefield status into a world class information system vital to our country’s security.