I know you have been on the edge of your seats since my Defense Speaks September column, “What Does Convergence Mean to Defense?” or back to my February column, “So, What’s a JADC2?”
While I tackled some other government defense topics, I realize I have left you hanging concerning the big interservice war game maneuvers, Project Convergence (PC), which tested out the information connection described in the JADC2 effort. I know, I know, you thought after my “Son of JEDI” description of a cloud-based information flow, that all service branches would soon be coordinated and talking to each other smoothly.
However, I occasionally describe the defense department as “the glacier” as it is very slow to get moving, but don’t stand in its way after movement starts. The same is true of interservice data communication; it doesn’t happen overnight.
Now, back to my Cliff’s Notes versions of Convergence and JADC2. JADC2 is Defense-speak for “Joint All Domain Command and Control” and what better way to test JACD2 than the Project Convergence Wargame. That is, having the Army Futures Command conduct an extensive field maneuver utilizing all the communication-based information between new weapon systems, even some from other service branches. The first Project Convergence was in the fall of 2020 and centered at Yuma Proving Ground, where testing was done for the key elements of artificial intelligence, autonomy, and robotics in the air and on the ground. That is, they were testing electronics in the real world. In my September column, I built up the suspense by announcing the PC ‘21 dates—October 12 to November 10. Well, it’s report card time. How did it go?
Defense (primarily the Army Futures Command as coordinator) got some A-minus or B-plus grades, but also some C-minus or D grades. One of the grade givers was Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, who reported the data moved much faster this year than in 2020. That’s pretty good, considering that the Army counted 110 total technologies participating this year, up from about 40 in 2020. Besides the armor and infantry units already stationed in the U.S. Southwest, troops from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg came in, as well as elements from Navy, Marines, and the newly-created Space Force. The location being simulated was not disclosed, but reports are that it was from Southeast Asia.
One “science fiction” demonstration had four autonomous AI ground robots tethered to a couple of quadcopter drones and this six-element force conducted reconnaissance missions with essentially no human input. The AI competence of the robots planned the mission, divided up the responsibilities, launched the mission, communicated during the mission, and at the end compiled the scouting report. The Army admitted that this was done in daytime in 2021, but promised to run the exercise at night in 2022.
Another big advance was an autonomous Black Hawk helicopter that was able to launch other, smaller drones all on its own. While the Black Hawk is a 40-year-old platform, it still is in service and the autonomous operation doing scouting work could easily be adapted to more modern helicopter platforms. Today, the Black Hawk is a workhorse helicopter, used around the world in 29 countries, and possibly projecting future convergence activities in many other armed forces. Using a “drone” to launch more drones is a true force multiplier.
I had mentioned the faster sharing of data, with the JADC2 as the driver between service branches. Well, at Project Convergence, each of the services sent reps to patch software on the spot as a way to improve daily communication. Apparently, working out issues during the Convergence exercise moved data formatting and sensor input along much faster than “write up the problem and we’ll take it back to the lab and work on it.”
Also, there apparently was some effort to simulate enemy jamming of communication channels, demonstrated as an “Achilles’ heel” for Defense systems in a 2020 simulation concerning Taiwan. One headline argued that the effort was a colossal failure.1 The article stated that in a fake battle for Taiwan, U.S. forces lost network access almost immediately. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten then issued four directives to help change that, including contested logistics, joint fires, JADC2, and an information advantage.
Finally, most of the participants in PC 21 were real soldiers, whereas in 2020, the participants were mostly the systems developers. Instant feedback was obtained about such items as how well headset electronics were operating, whether they were comfortable and functional, and whether they remained connected. Also, real simulations could be run right before Convergence participation to better anticipate what might go wrong in the field.
But the Army did admit there are things that have to be improved, and fast.
- The Army admitted the self-guided robots use LIDAR technology like that used in self-driving automobiles. So, using the very same detection circuit built into an automobile LIDAR transmitter/receiver, the enemy only has to see where the infrared light is coming from to kill the LIDAR-emitting vehicle. One description noted the robot vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree. A possible alternate for commercial LIDAR is GPS location from satellites, but satellite jamming is expected to be one of the first actions in any armed conflict.
- Apparently, there is more work needed to completely overcome expected enemy countermeasures. There has not been enough time since the 2020 failure outlined above to solve the countermeasure problem.
- Even if there was progress on JADC2, communications issues were certainly not solved completely. For instance, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall wants more specifics on what critical Air Force information is to be communicated by JADC2 and who is to do that.2 Kendall apparently feels JADC2 is too much “gee-whiz demonstration oriented” and not enough “practical battle management.”
- Even more detail on the Army Futures evaluation of Project Convergence 21 was detailed in a briefing in early December. There were five main lessons for the service’s network cross functional team, from the importance of a data fabric to the need for a joint operational common picture, to inform future work.3
The Project Convergence people are not deterred. Plans are already announced for Project Convergence 2022 and I plan to write about this next year. A main feature will be to invite England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to participate. Just as one U.S. service branch is not expected to fight alone, the U.S. expects to have allies in any future fight. This between-country communication glitch was nowhere more evident than the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan; the U.S. was certainly not the only country taking troops and friends out of that country.
In 2022 technology areas, the call for submissions is open through December 31. Technology Collaboration Areas4 include: