WASHINGTON — In its third year, the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence demonstration will focus on both the Indo-Pacific and European theaters while tackling how to fight with future capability at a larger scale, according to Col. Tobin Magsig, special assistant to the commander of Army Futures Command.
Project Convergence grew from just an Army event in the desert of Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona in 2020 to a joint evaluation in 2021.
While the two previous Project Convergence events focused heavily on scenarios that might play out in the Indo-Pacific region, as the joint force continues to work out its roles and responsibilities, “the Army has got to be ready to fight anywhere, just like the rest of the joint force,” Magsig told Defense News in a recent interview. “We’re responsive to what’s going on in the world.”
This time, the United Kingdom, Australia and very likely New Zealand will participate, said Magsig. Canada will observe with plans to participate in a subsequent Project Convergence, he added.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth had stressed last fall that while the Army is looking heavily toward the Pacific region and its role there, Europe should never be out of focus. Just as Project Convergence 2021 was wrapping up, Russia began massing its forces along the Ukrainian border.
In planning PC22, Magsig said he took the secretary’s recent comments and said “we have to experiment with both in PC22, and unfortunately for the Ukrainian people, we’ve seen that play out with great importance now. But we realized in November-December timeframe that we needed to expand our horizons here at Project Convergence 22.”
Near-peer adversary focus
The exercise will run through two scenarios. The first will be focused on the Indo-Pacific area of operations, where the joint force and its international partners will conduct experimentation in offensive and defensive fires.
The scenario will tie together places relevant to the area of operation, including Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State, Camp Pendleton and San Clemente Island in California and Hawaii, according to Magsig.
The second scenario is “focused on what we’re watching playing out in the [U.S. European Command] AOR” and will feature a land-centric fight against the type of “threat the Ukrainians are facing every day now,” Magsig said.
Most of those operations will play out at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and the Navy’s electronic warfare range at China Lake — both in California.
“When you link those together it’s a pretty large swath of land that has a range of electronic warfare sensors that we can build in a range to look like an adversary’s threat,” he said.
The scenario will experiment with how command and control nodes from all five services can penetrate an integrated air defense system network resembling those currently being used by Russia in Ukraine. Then the joint force will sustain a land campaign against a hybrid threat much like the one “you’re seeing in living color right now in Ukraine,” Magsig said.
That land campaign will be supported through the space and air domains and through fires capability coming from the maritime domain, he noted.
In both scenarios, the Army along with joint and coalition forces have been tasked by the Army secretary and chief to scale capability that performed well in PC21 and increase the complexity “to the point where it’s completely operationally relevant,” Magsig said.
In PC21, the Army used tactical units commanded by one- or two-star-level units, but this time, the event will scale up to three-star-level command and control nodes, according to Magsig.
Last year, the 82nd Airborne Brigade played a major role. This year, the Army will use the 3rd Armored Corps out of Fort Hood, Texas, and the 18th Airborne Corps out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Elements of the Navy’s Third Fleet will also participate, using its “Landlocked Ship One” – essentially a ship sitting in the desert at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, with its own Skipper – as part of the exercise.
While PC21 had one element of a Marine Littoral Regiment, the plan is to scale that up to get elements from a Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California.
The Air Force brought individual fighter and bomber wings to support the exercise last year, but this year the event will include the Shadow Operations Center out of Nellis Air Base, Nevada. The service will use the event to experiment with what its next Air Operations Center might look like.
And while space assets were used in previous Project Convergences, in PC23 Space Command’s two-star level operational headquarters will participate, according to Magsig.
“In PC21, we did things in ones and twos. Some of that is because we wanted to do it both in simulation and do it live and when you are doing things live with million dollar missile shots, there’s a problem in terms of when you want to get at complexity, there’s a thing called cost,” Magsig said.
So in order to scale the exercise effectively and keep the evaluation process affordable, Magsig said PC22 will use validated data from the live exercises last year and will scale capability in simulation.
“The Ukrainians aren’t facing one missile a day. I think the last count I saw was something like 650 different types of missile strikes have impacted inside Ukraine,” Magsig said. So “if we go to war against China, it’s going to be worse. We could get 300 or 600 in the first 24 to 48 hours.”
Magsig stressed this doesn’t turn this into a “theory of war game” because of the live data collected in previous efforts accurately represent capability in a simulated environment through the Joint Systems Integration Laboratory.
“An adversary like Russia or China is going to come at you with a multitude of threats, ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles, air breathing threats, and we’ve got to see where the joint force can both thwart the attack across multiple different attack vectors,” he said, “and when you look at what that means, we have to be able to take out the arrows and the archer. We’ve got to be able to destroy those, but then effectively counter attack against the archers that are getting prepared to fire the next salvo.”
The scale is “going to stretch the level of our networks,” Magsig said. Data will pass from WSMR to JBLM to Fort Bragg to Virginia and all the way to the West Coast.
“We’re going to be using simulation to stimulate our mission command systems and our weapon systems, passing fire control quality data across the network and then use that to engage in both offensive and defensive fires across the joint force,” he described.
New focus, new tech
While the exercise will focus on some use cases from the past year – like integrated air and missile defense and joint fires – it will also add at least one: contested logistics.
In PC21, the service experimented with prognostic and preventive maintenance sensors, “basically putting sensors on a range of vehicles and collecting that data, amalgamating it, aggregating the data and then seeing how we can get ahead of maintenance and where that data can allow us to save costs on maintenance and also raise our operational readiness levels,” Magsig said.
This year, the Army is trying to do the same across many more classes of supplies, such as fuel and ammunition. The Army is working to create a dashboard for commanders that show when supplies are running low and when they will run out or when parts require maintenance.
“Our operational commanders, our division and corps commanders are screaming for this capability,” Magsig said. “That’s a big effort and so if we eat half that cookie, I’ll be impressed and proud.”
Contested logistics will be evaluated in both scenarios, Magsig noted. San Clemente Island will be used to test some of the capability and could include the Army’s new Maneuver Support Vessel-Light, a watercraft with flexibility to be used to transport troops and for fire support and supply delivery.
The event will also include some Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office technologies, including offensive drone swarm capability and possibly the Mid-Range Capability missile expected to be fielded in 2023 and tech from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Overall the combined joint force wants to learn how to deal with large-scale complex attacks, how it can employ both lethal and non-lethal effects and “where our systems fail to overmatch our adversaries,” Magsig said.
“There’s a number X out there where our systems, our networks, will break down passing that much data; our systems, our radars get overloaded with tracks and there’s not enough missiles in our arsenals or depth of our magazines is insufficient or a combination of those things that will lead us to fail,” Magsig said. “And we want to know where we’re going to fail in Project Convergence and not on the day that our adversary decides to attack.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.