WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will head out west to conduct an intricate, aviation-focused exercise called Edge 21 ahead of the service’s second Project Convergence event, Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, who is in charge of Army aviation modernization, told Defense News in a recent interview.

Edge 21 — which stands for Experimental Demonstration Gateway Exercise — will be held at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in May, Rugen said, and will serve as a gateway event for Project Convergence 21.

Project Convergence is a campaign of learning that began in 2020 and will be held annually to bring together key technologies designed to fight across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

The new exercise will apply space, aviation and network capabilities to how the Army and the joint force would fight in the Indo-Pacific theater based on high-fidelity modeling the service has used to show the efficacy of its capabilities in Indo-Pacific Command’s area of operation.

The event will test the Army’s future vertical lift aircraft and other enablers planned to be fielded in the 2030s. It will also test the fleet’s effectiveness in multidomain operations against high-end adversaries.

“What we’re seeing is, again, that integration of these capabilities, drafting off of our 10,000 engineering runs on our modeling and then plowing that into a western test range with active threat emitters and fighting it,” Rugen said.

A second round of high-fidelity modeling focused on INDOPACOM’s area of operations has wrapped up, and senior leaders are receiving information on the results. The findings are classified, but Rugen said the activity showed that future vertical lift systems offer transformational reach, and the future vertical lift ecosystem proved that capability in the lower tier of the air domain “can really be decisive.” A third round will focus on the joint force, he added, to guide how Project Convergence 21 can serve as a joint effort.

Edge 21 will expand on both the Army’s architecture, automation, autonomy and interface capabilities, or A3I, which was demonstrated at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, in 2019 and Project Convergence 2020, Rugen said.

Defense News was on the ground at the A3I demonstration at China Lake.

Whereas Project Convergence focused on the penetration and dis-integration portions of the Multi-Domain Operations war-fighting concept using the aerial tier, Edge 21 will take it a step further and exercise the exploitation phase of operations, focusing on the air assault mission.

The penetration phase focuses on neutralizing long-range systems and contesting enemy maneuver forces from operational and strategic distances. The dis-integration phase focuses on neutralizing long- and short-range systems while conducting maneuver and deception operations. The exploitation phase features the freedom to maneuver to defeat enemy objectives and forces.

The Army will partner with the Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne Division, which is sending its tactical command post, according to Rugen. The exercise will also feature long-range precision fires capabilities, which is key to fighting in the Pacific theater.

Edge 21 will feature a multitude of capabilities across the upper and lower air domain. The Army is looking at bringing in fifth-generation fighter jets; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; space assets present at Project Convergence; electronic warfare assets; and artificial intelligence capabilities.

And the A3I Gray Eagle drone will make another appearance along with other capabilities related to the future attack reconnaissance aircraft ecosystem, Rugen said.

The exercise will likely incorporate an “Air-Launched Effects-Large” capability, currently under development through a partnership with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. While Rugen could not provide specific ALE-L details, he did say: “We have payloads that we want that are a little bit bigger, and so we have a form factor that is a bigger form factor.”

Edge 21 will hopefully demonstrate the advantage of fighting in the lower tier of the air domain, Rugen said.

“There’s a lot of radar clutter in the lower tier of the air, of the air domain. These future advanced rotorcraft configurations that we’re looking at give us superior transformational reach, where we can operate from relative sanctuary, which is really outside of the medium-range ballistic missile. We can operate disaggregated, which keeps us away from long-range ballistic missiles targeting an airport or ship port,” he said. “We can quickly aggregate, cover the range we need with the superior reach, and then bring standoff and overmatch.”

Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for nearly a decade. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.

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