WASHINGTON — Next year’s Project Convergence, an experimentation exercise first established by the U.S. Army in 2020, will be focused on how the joint force would fight with multinational partners by connecting to a common mission environment, according to Army leaders developing the event set for the second half of 2022.
The Mission Partner Environment, or MPE, is a platform that will enable information sharing between the U.S. military and its allies. The MPE has been in development for several years, and the U.S. and its international partners have been working to refine the capability at exercises like the U.S. Army’s annual Joint Warfighting Assessment, or JWA.
“We made a big leap from [Project Convergence 20]20 to ‘21 by including the Joint Force because … we don’t fight alone,” Col. Tobin Magsig, the U.S. Army’s Joint Modernization Command commander, told Defense News at its annual conference on Sept. 8.
The main portion of the Project Convergence exercise this year will take place from late October into November.
Then the Joint Force will take lessons learned from the experiment and apply them in 2022, but this time with multinational partners — the United Kingdom and Australia.
“The challenges that we’re going to have with our multinational partners [is] doing everything [on] a Mission Partner Environment,” Magsig said. “The network is going to be a very, very significant change from PC 21 to PC 22.”
This year, the joint force will fight together on systems and enclaves it uses on a daily basis, which are secure, but unclassified.
The MPE is a network that has been used only episodically, Magsig said. “We put it together for a specific experiment or exercise and then we take it down. We put it back together and then we take it down. But we’ve got to prove that, and I think some of the best learning we are going to see in PC 22, is how to make that more persistent in the way the Army fights.
“We are really going to struggle, but we’re really going to learn what we share, what we don’t share,” he said.
While some of the technology foreign partners are bringing to PC 22 is “going to remain sovereign,” according to Magsig, the Army and its allies still have to be able to integrate technology and make it work together “without necessarily knowing all the ones and zeroes” in the software code.
The MPE has grown, Magsig said. Back in 2018, when the Army conducted its first JWA internationally in Germany, it took roughly four months to put the network together between the allies and partners participating.
In many cases there, it was the first time the participating militaries had tied together common communication services like phone, internet and chat capability, according to Magsig, giving them the ability to more easily share data and communicate.
During JWA 21, which wrapped up in June, “it took us still weeks,” Magsig said. “So we’re getting better from months, but we’re still [taking] three or four weeks to put that together.”
And there remain limitations. The Army has established some boundaries it knows it can’t break through, “especially when it comes to some of our simulation programs,” Magsig noted, adding “that’s a lot of how we fight is entire headquarters, command post exercises and simulations and that is really difficult to put together a mission partner environment that simulates and stimulates coalition mission command systems, sovereign systems.”
Building a network to bring the U.S. and its partners together is a big challenge, Lt. Gen. Scott McKean, Army Futures Command deputy commander and Futures and Concepts commander, told Defense News during the same conference panel.
“An open architecture isn’t necessarily applicable to a network … because there’s technical aspects and there’s a policy aspect and every country has their own policy so that’s obviously one of the baseline problems,” he said.
But to tackle the problem, the Army is looking at establishing touchpoints with partners, particularly in Europe and the Pacific, McKean said.
“We’re going to experiment as part of their exercises and that’s how we start bringing the Project Convergence concepts into play in Europe and expanding our partner involvement without having to go through a big technical exercise in the middle of the desert somewhere,” McKean said. “We can do this in Europe and we can do it in the Pacific.”
To prepare the MPE for PC 22 stateside, the Joint Systems Integration Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, will experiment in the months leading up to the big event with how best to cobble systems together, which will help “buy down risk,” according to Magsig.
Overall, the planning process for PC 22 is about 70 percent complete, Magsig said, “but we’ve got to leave room for what we’re learning in ‘21. … We need to see what we did, what worked, what didn’t work, where we failed in ‘21 and then use that as a starting point for refining and finalizing the [use] cases in ‘22.”
McKean said the Army just finished its initial planning conference for PC 22.
PC 22 “really starts getting into our ability to, whether it’s penetrating a denied space or attacking the enemy’s command-and-control capabilities, those are the things that will start to develop out in different environments as we move forward,” McKean said.
The event next year will include joint fires and multinational fires experimentation, will expand on air-and-missile defense operations and will include a wet gap crossing exercise, according to Magsig. It will also focus on multinational sustainment of joint forces.
All of these types of operations will be challenges that need to be addressed regardless of theater or environment, he noted. “These are the things that land forces and joint forces and multinational partners will have to do together.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. 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.