Navy Ships, F-35s, Missiles & Robots Planned for Army Project Convergence '21
Video: Army Research Lab Scientist Describes Human Brain as Sensor Connecting With AI
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) F-35s attacking from the air, cruise missiles fired from Navy “Desert Ships,” armored ground vehicles closing in for attack and long-range precision fire weapons all receiving real-time input from helicopters, drones and AI-enabled computer systems …. Describes the Army plan for its upcoming Project Convergence 2021, an experiment intended to explore a new paradigm for modern war.
Moving beyond the initial Project Convergence 2020 during which an AI-enabled computer system was able to connect targeting input for small, forward operating mini-drones with helicopters, ground vehicles and attack weapons in seconds, the Army plans to build upon this success and take new steps to incorporate new weapons and multi-domain combat tactics.
“You remember the focus for 20 was just that sensor to shooter look. We will continue to expand upon the sensor to shooter links from an indirect fire and direct fire perspective. This is about technology, but it is just as much about how we use the technology and how we fight and organize for the future. It's a learning activity more than it is a demonstration,” Army Futures Command Commander Gen. John Murray told The National Interest in an interview.
Project Convergence 2021, which is about refining new attack and warfare tactics to “attack and fight at speed,” will seek to advance the 2020 breakthroughs with more multi-domain activity and a broader complement of weapons. Using a Desert Ship configuration in place at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the exercise will include some unique Navy weapons and sensing technologies to coordinate with Army air and ground assets, Murray said.
The 2021 exercise also plans to draw upon autonomous systems in new ways and integrate various aspects of long range fires and missile defense. For instance, Project Convergence 2021 will fire the now evolving Precision Strike Missile, a new first-of-its-kind weapon able to pinpoint enemy positions from as far as 500km.
The upcoming Project Convergence 21 will also introduce the active participation of airborne F-35s sharing real-time targeting information with ground troops. This two-way data sharing, which breaks new ground with air-ground warfare operations, was successfully demonstrated last year following Project Convergence 2020. In 2021, the F-35 will be woven directly into the exercise itself. The concept is to bring new levels of close-air support, multi-node, multi-service warzone connectivity and target sharing at the “speed of relevance.” Conceptually and tactically, the entire premise is to essentially get inside of the enemy’s decision-making loop and take decisive action fast enough to prevail in an engagement.
“It all comes down to the ability to link databases and share data across the services
Does not matter who the data belongs to,” Murray said.
Murray said many of these tactics are already in the process of being refined, tested and improved through ongoing exercises with several joint-service Multi-domain Task Forces now operating in the Pacific. These units, he added, will participate in Project Convergence 2021.
Success in massive, great power, multi-domain war may in coming years come down to a simple word. Speed. While of course seemingly reductive to a degree, the force with an ability to process, share and decisively act upon key, time sensitive target data and warfare information, is certainly likely to prevail. If an approaching mechanized armored force is able to receive information on enemy force activity and location from satellites, drones, aircraft or even Navy ships -- and have the long-range precision weaponry to decisively strike -- well before they are themselves able to be targeted, they are of course likely to prevail.
Future war, to a large extent, hinges upon information. Does this mean war will be won or lost by virtue of the efficacy of AI? That is certainly a key variable, yet the weapons themselves still need to be lethal, long range and effective against an array of complex targets.
Operating within this fundamental recognition, the Army is moving quickly to experiment with, test, refine and engineer new weapons, technologies and tactical warfare applications. This concept is the basis of the Army’s upcoming multi-domain, multi-service Project Convergence 2021.
Robots, mini-air drones, surrogate armored combat vehicles, long-range missiles, cross-country satellite networking and super high-speed, AI-enabled computing are all on their way to the desert later this year for this year’s Project Convergence.
The first one, wherein targeting decision loops were truncated from minutes to seconds, proved successful for many service leaders, technology experts and weapons developers seeking to redefine how modern warfare is conducted. One could call it a kind of “warfare at speed” enabled almost entirely by multi-node combat sensor networking massively accelerated by an AI-capable computer called Firestorm. Not only will the upcoming Project Convergence 2021 involve other services to a much greater degree but will also incorporate multi-domain tasks forces, Air Force weapons, Navy technologies and even a headquarters element which was not there last year.
“There will be mission threads just like last year, all tied to questions we are trying to answer, using the same level of data collection we used last year. We will go into this year with the other services all in on bringing their data collectors. It will be a pooled set of data. We will all have access to it so we all have the ability to learn the same things from the data,” Gen. John Murray, Commander, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an interview.
In a broad sense, it is interesting and significant to note that, with Project Convergence, the Army may be accomplishing or beginning to accomplish the kinds of AI-enabled, sensor-to-shooter breakthroughs truly able to reshape the paradigm for modern war. Murray, in fact, sees it this way and while he emphasizes that the process is experimental and very much a learning process, he does say Army thinkers are beginning conceptual work on how these technical and tactical adaptations will inform new doctrine.
This kind of real-time combat networking, particularly across domains, is something the Army has been working on for decades. Now, due to advances in technology and maneuver formation adaptations, it may be coming to fruition. Senior leaders are reluctant to draw any premature conclusions, yet they are optimistic and do seem to operate with the clear recognition that, should a major mechanized joint U.S. military force be able to find, track and destroy enemy targets across unprecedented ranges in an unprecedented multi-domain way exponentially faster than major power rivals, it could lead to a much sought after and needed advantages.
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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.