Project Convergence Conquers Tech Valley of Death
Systems in PC 21 could transition to programs next year.
The transition plan for some of the technologies involved in the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence 2021 (PC 21) campaign of learning should be delivered to the commander of U.S. Army Futures Command by Christmas, according to his deputy commander.
Lt. Gen. James Richardson, USA, deputy commander, Army Futures Command, told the audience at the Association of United States Army (AUSA) annual conference in Washington, D.C., that PC 21 includes about 110 technologies, some of which could transition very quickly to programs of record. PC 22 began this month and will end on November 9.
For those technologies that prove mature enough during the experimental exercise, Gen. Richardson will deliver a transition plan to his boss and to senior Army leadership by Christmas. In a brief exchange following his panel presentation, the deputy commander asserted that some technologies could begin that process in the 2022 calendar year.
“We’ve got to act with speed. There are going to be some things that we’ve got to divest of. There are going to be some things that we have to write a requirements document for—not a year from now—but weeks from now,” he said. “Once we brief the senior leaders of the Army, the way forward is that in certain cases, we’re going to write requirements documents. In other cases, we’re going to transition that technology to a program manager to put in a weapon system.”
Army officials wanted to ensure even before PC 21 began that warfighters needed the technologies and that there was a path for funding and transition to official programs. The rapid transition will overcome the so-called “valley of death” for technology. The term is commonly used to describe the fate of technologies that never transition out of the laboratory and are never fielded.
“We look at the technical readiness. “We do all that up front. We look at the technical readiness of it. We all agree as a team. Now, we’re going as a team into this experiment, and if it works, we’re going to transition it quickly,” Gen. Richardson said. “That’s a little bit different than we’ve done it in the past, but what it avoids is this valley of death that you all have heard about.”
In his remarks before the panel session, Gen. John Murray, commander, U.S. Army Futures Command, emphasized that PC 21 is about technology insertions. “We go into PC 21 with an eye toward technologies that are mature enough and proven enough in the dirt with an operational unit that we begin to spin out those technologies either directly to a program executive office or a program manager, or to an industry partner to scale for us.” In some cases, he added, such as technologies developed in Army labs, industry will need to “help us scale that solution” either into programs of record or as programs of record.
During a press conference later in the day, Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, USA, program executive officer-command, control and communications-tactical, listed ground and aerial waveforms, data fabric technology and mid-Earth orbit (MEO) satellite communications as three categories of technology that could be transitioned quickly after PC 21.
“I would tell you one of the fundamental things we’re looking at from a transition perspective is you’ve heard a lot about data fabric. Data fabric is probably one area. We’ve got both industry capabilities and science and technology initiatives that have not only helped us provide the blueprint of how we’re going to construct that data fabric but an initial capability that we can go out and demonstrate,” Gen. Collins stated.
Traditionally, Gen. Collins pointed out, the Army has relied heavily on very high altitude satellite communications. “When you start to get lower altitude, you reduce tremendously the latency. You start to exponentially increase the throughput. That’s probably another area that we’re looking that’s very mature, very viable to roll out rapidly after Project Convergence,” he asserted.
Data fabric, he noted, will allow the convergence of multiple types of data, such as intelligence, sustainment and fires that can be synchronized with other echelons and integrated into a single visual display.
Gen. Murray and others also touted the joint nature of PC 21. The services established a 3-star joint board of directors organized to tackle seven use cases, or tactical scenarios that future commanders could face on the battlefield. The three joint scenarios involve all-domain situational awareness, air and missile defense and long-range precision fires. The experiment also includes four “ground-centric use cases that feature a lot of the autonomous systems and the automated target recognition systems that we’ve been working on,” Gen. Murray reported. The first tactical scenario begins October 13.
PC 21 expands on the work done last year with Project Convergence 2020. That event was Army-centric and involved possibly as many as 600 people. Besides involving the other services, this year’s event also includes more than 5,000 people. Additionally, it will test some systems in a degraded environment, which usually means some form of electronic jamming or other interference.
Furthermore, PC 21 includes more than 300 data analysts at eight different locations. The data collection plan, which Gen. Richardson described as “extremely important,” was another element of the event that the 3-star board of directors approved beforehand. “These data collectors understand the questions that we’re trying to answer. Each one of them has metrics, and they’re collecting, and they’re providing us updates as we go each day,” he said.
Cdr. Rollie Wicks, USN, Navy Digital Warfare Office, who served on the panel with Gen. Richardson, noted that problems get solved much faster during PC 21 than during traditional exercises, such as Valiant Shield. “If something doesn’t work, I pick up the phone, I call the program office, and I ask them to help us fix this problem. If I was at Valiant Shield, my process was to put in an operational needs statement, staff that up to the fleet, staff that up to Fleet Forces Command, staff that up to the Navy staff, and maybe two years later it gets funding, and maybe two years beyond that, the change would be implemented,” he said. “Today, at Project Convergence, I’m picking up the phone, we’re changing code, and we’re trying to make things happen.”
He added PC 21 is accumulating a series of first-time feats. “We have a growing list of firsts that we’re accomplishing as part of PC 21 in terms of integrating our sensor technologies, creating situational awareness and then enabling the ability to target off of that data as well,” the commander offered.
Next year’s Project Convergence likely will remain joint while including some allies and coalition partners, and then in 2024, the event will likely expand allied and coalition partner participation.