WASHINGTON — The Army is about to kick off a major part of its U.S.-based experimentation event known as Project Convergence, and service leaders are considering growing the annual campaign overseas.
The first Project Convergence took place in late summer and early fall 2020 at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. A year later, what was a solely Army exercise is now joint, and its operations are spread across the country, from Washington state to North Carolina and down to the southwest desert at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and at Yuma Proving Ground.
The exercise is culminating — beginning this month and ending in early November — in a series of scenarios, dubbed vignettes. They’ll test multiple capabilities, including air defense, air assault and ground maneuver, with the goal of cutting the time it takes to identify enemy targets, respond and destroy those threats through what the services call the “kill chain.”
The Army is shifting its focus from counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East to an era of great power competition — one in which the United States must be prepared to operate against advanced adversaries in high-end conflicts across air, land, sea, space and cyber domains.
While the Army and the other services haven’t yet executed the main event, Gen. Mike Murray, who leads Army Futures Command, told Defense News in an Oct. 1 interview the service already achieved Project Convergence 21′s major objective: “creating an experiment that gets the joint force excited.”
This year, operational and experimental Army units, including the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the first multidomain task force, or MDTF, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, will attend. The joint exercise, which is going multinational with the addition of the United Kingdom and Australia, will focus on interoperability and will feature a scenario relevant for missions in the Indo-Pacific theater.
That’s where the MDTF comes in. The group has a history of participating in Pacific-focused operations and regional training.
The unit type was formed to test the Army’s multi-domain operations war-fighting concept, which will soon become doctrine. The second MDTF was activated in Europe last month, and the Pacific theater will eventually get two of the units.
The scenarios in Project Convergence 21 are designed to address operational needs across combatant commands, Murray said, but the way the exercise is spread out across the country is specifically meant to represent the vast area of the Indo-Pacific theater and address latencies created by those great distances.
Gen. Charles Flynn, the head of U.S Army Pacific Command, told Defense News in a Sept. 30 interview he would like to eventually see part of Project Convergence take place in the region.
“It’s important to do things at Yuma and White Sands and some other locations back in the continental United States, but those locations don’t look anything like Southeast Asia and archipelago environments or mountains, high altitude, extreme cold weather, tropics, jungle, expansive waterways, immature road networks, [information technology] backbones,” Flynn said.
“I think that being able to take Project Convergence and get that out into the region here affords us an opportunity to have exponential learning as we develop this concept and capabilities and identify our gaps and then address those gaps,” he said.
But the advantage of Yuma and White Sands is their established test infrastructure, Murray said. “One of the most important things we’ll do during [Project Convergence] is data collection,” he explained, as well as monitoring how data flows across the network.
A controlled setting allows the Army to jam its own GPS and communications, for example. During the exercise, this will take place every Friday to challenge the system, Murray said.
“As long as the focus is technology, it makes it hard to move from some place where you can get access to those types of resources,” he noted.
To up the ante for Project Convergence, Army leadership might execute “a hub and spoke concept,” where the hub of the exercise is in the United States, but technology is brought to both the European and Indo-Pacific theaters as spokes so the U.S. military can expand its work with allies and partners, Murray said.
“That gives us some advantages,” he said. “The advantage we’ve got in Europe is there are organizations set up there that have specific security classifications.”
U.S. Army Europe’s goal for the Defender series in 2022 is to focus on modernization efforts and implementation in the U.S. through various combat training center rotations and Project Convergence, according to an Army statement sent to Defense News.
The Army in 2020 established the Defender series of exercises, a division-sized event in Europe and another in the Pacific, to put the service’s power projection capabilities to the test. The plan was to make each theater’s exercise an annual event, but the service has had to scale back its plans each year due to the pandemic.
The Pacific is more challenging because it lacks a NATO-type establishment. Instead, the U.S. tends to work on a bilateral level with each regional ally and partner.
“If you bring a bunch of partners together, you’re almost automatically driven to the unclassified level, which is really hard with some of the technologies we’re talking about,” Murray said.
The Army already has experience sending Army Futures Command technology abroad. For example, it delivered tech to experiment with position, navigation and timing capabilities as part of Dynamic Front in Europe the last two years. And the Army Warfighting Assessment, which turned into the Joint Warfighting Assessment in 2018, went to Europe that year. In 2021, the assessment took place in the Pacific theater.
“We’ll see in ‘23 and beyond,” Murray said. “This is about technology, but it’s also about how we fight, how we structure ourselves, and so I do see utility in going to a theater, especially if we can embed in an existing [combatant command] exercise.”
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.