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Drones, helicopters, aircraft, rocket launchers and armored ground vehicles can all now find and destroy enemy targets across multiple domains in a matter of seconds, a technological and conceptual breakthrough now reshaping concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver as the Army prepares for Future Warfare.
Project Convergence & Combined Arms Maneuver
The Army’s emerging ability to truncate sensor-to-shooter time in warfare situations down to a matter of seconds was demonstrated during the last several years at the services’ breakthrough Project Convergence exercise, a technological breakthrough enabling forward operating mini-drones to network with larger unmanned systems, helicopters and even ground weapons to find, analyze and destroy targets in real time across multiple domains.
Drawing upon an AI-enabled system known as FireStorm, multiple networked Army platforms were able to gather massive amounts of intelligence information, analyze, organize, and prioritize seemingly limitless and disparate pools of incoming data. Firestorm gathers streams of data, identifies moments of relevance, bounces information off of a seemingly limitless database to not only pinpoint and verify target specifics but also identify and recommend the optimal weapon, effector or method of attack.
This high speed process, giving human decision-makers life-saving crucial data in seconds, is a long-sought after Army goal which is now coming to fruition. The intent is to get inside of the enemies’ decision cycle and “act” decisively in advance of an incoming attack. It can well be described as a land-based iteration of a now famous process for fighter pilots made famous years ago by former Air Force Col. John Boyd. It's called the OODA Loop, for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action, a series of steps which, if completely, accurately and quickly, enables a fighter pilot to win a dogfight and destroy the enemy. Whichever fighter pilot completes the OODA Loop faster is the one able to prevail in an air-to-air engagement.
The Army’s Project Convergence adapted this conceptual paradigm to multi-domain land-and-air war with great success. Initial progress with this breakthrough, evolving over just the last several years, represents the culmination of literally decades of Army technological efforts to enable cross-force networked connectivity across multiple nodes in real time in combat. A “system-of-systems” interoperable network, after all, formed the inspirational foundation for the Army’s Future Combat System effort decades ago.
Now, common technical standards, AI-enabled computing, hardened transport-layer communications technologies and refined concepts of operation have brought this to life in a way that arguably reshapes the paradigm for modern warfare.
Should a mini-dorne, called Air Launched Effects by the Army, succeed in gathering time-sensitive targeting detail over enemy territory under hostile fire and is then able to instantly transmit to a larger, drone, helicopter and AI-capable ground station, an armed ground-based armored vehicle, dismounted infantry unit, medium size drone or helicopter could then be cued to strike within seconds.
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This phenomenon, as described to me by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin in a previous conversation, is not merely envisioned as a “kill-chain” but rather an integrated “kill web” process wherein multiple meshed nodes across multiple domains close in on, identify and eliminate targets. The Army is now expanding its signature high tech Project Convergence experiment to catapult the service into the future of warfare with high-speed targeting, attacking at the speed of relevance and shortening “sensor-to-shooter” time from minutes down to seconds.
Project Convergence 2022 & Future Vertical Lift
Project Convergence 2022 will now incorporate international allies into this process. It takes little imagination to recognize what this might do for multinational attack operations such as those anticipated by NATO. This concept is part of the key inspiration for a newly signed “Feasibility Agreement” between the US and UK to collaborate on research, development and concepts related to Future Vertical Lift and evolving concepts of lower-tier air warfare. Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, Director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command says this is part of the motivation for the service to include allies in the upcoming Project Convergence 22.
“The Army completed Project Convergence 21, our largest Joint experiment in 15 years, last fall and this year PC22 will include allied nations,” Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, Director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in a written statement. “Arrangements like these will ultimately improve our capabilities and strengthen our forces, focusing on joint lethality, survivability and reach, while ensuring affordability for both our countries.”
The language of the UK-US FVL collaborative agreement includes mention of specific systems utilized in Army Project Convergence exercises such as Air Launched Effects as well as key components of the Future Vertical Lift program to include the emerging Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Unmanned Aerial Systems.
As part of this nascent agreement, in which both the US and UK seek to build upon a long history of military collaboration, the two countries will be jointly exploring the extent to which new technologies and platforms will reshape concepts of operations and inform future maneuver formations in warfare.
“They will also explore and analyze new concepts for the employment of coalition air power in the lower tier air domain, the air space where Army aviation typically operates,” an Army statement on the agreement says.
Longer range, more secure networks, a new generation of targeting and surveillance sensors as well as innovations related to precision and lethality of weapons are all likely to expand an area of operations for combat. These newer technologies, coupled with a new generation of high-speed, fuel efficient US and UK rotorcraft, will undoubtedly expand the battlefield and enable more dispersed, yet closely networked multinational operations.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.