WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is doing more work ahead of time to practice networking sensors and shooters together in a virtual environment ahead of Project Convergence 21, after finding that networking was harder than expected in last year’s iteration of the experimentation event.

Lt. Gen. James Richardson, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Futures Command, said every piece of technology that’s being used in Project Convergence 21, which starts Oct. 12, was tested in a modeling and simulation environment to make sure it works as an individual system, but it was also modeled and simulated as part of a network as well.

The Army’s big lesson from PC20, he said, was that it’s harder to network things together than the service realized.

“And if you wait until you get into the dirt at 122 degrees, it’s too late,” he added.

The Army created a Joint Systems Integration Laboratory to connect all its science and technology labs and battle labs. Last month, the service spent three weeks at Aberdeen Proving Grounds hosting a modeling and simulation event that participants could tap into from other labs and begin to integrate their technologies into the network. The event went as far as running the actual “use cases,” or operational scenarios, that will be run live at PC21 in the field, and “it paid huge dividends,” Richardson said.

“I don’t know what we would have done if we had not taken all the 110 technologies, seven use cases, run them in this laboratory,” the general said.

“All of our science and technology should be in those labs, all of our [program managers] and programs should be in the labs, the [life cycle management commands] with their post-production software should be in those labs — let’s run everything in the lab to learn before we actually go and buy or go into the field,” he added.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Rollie Wicks , a requirements officer for artificial intelligence and machine learning at the Navy Digital Warfare Office who is a liaison with the Army for Project Convergence, said during the panel discussion that the Army, Navy and Marine Corps had brought their systems engineering models together as a joint team. The idea, he said, was to look closely at what wasn’t working in the modeling and simulation environment — so officials could go back to the drawing board and engineer a solution as quickly as possible.

“One of the things the Navy and Marine Corps has been doing with the Army is capturing all the systems engineering models, how everything connects together, and from that generate our test plan that we’re executing at PC21,” said Wicks.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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