Getting all these systems to work together over such distances is hard enough within a single service like the Army. Getting different systems’ technology to trade data is harder still. That’s true even for an aircraft like the F-35, which is so packed with advanced electronics and data-fusion software.
The concept is coalescing around a key idea — one that requires tossing decades of traditional thinking out the window. “As opposed to what many leaders have been doing their entire career, the biggest difference is that in the future there will be no lines on the battlefield.”
The current structure is all about dividing areas of operations. “Wherever we go, if we have to fight, we established the forward edge of the battle area, we’ve established the fire support coordination line, the forward line of troops, and we say: ‘OK, Army can operate here. Air Force can operate here.”
“Everything is about lines” now. But to function in modern contested environments, “those lines are eliminated.”
What does that mean in practice? Pentagon has put forth a vision in which every force can both defend itself and have a deep-strike capability to hold an enemy at bay, built around a unified command-and-control system.
“A naval force can defend itself or strike deep. An Air Force that can defend itself or strike deep. The Marines can defend itself or strike deep. “Everybody.”
The current force is vulnerable to precision fires cued by visual and electromagnetic signatures, which threat forces use to target formations from the top down. The Army should move the small tent cities onto highly mobile platforms that come equipped with built-in electronics and communications suites.
The command centers of the future must be capable of rapid displacement with the ability to maintain scalable mission command. In order to reduce signatures, it is also in the interest of developers to hone communications suites with dedicated bandwidth that can reach back to processing, exploitation, and dissemination cells in the consolidation area.
No tent can replicate the mobility of mission command on wheels. Even the smallest, most mobile tents still take upwards of twenty to thirty minutes to break down and set up, even with practiced crews. Achieving this kind of mounted mobility may compel the Army to sacrifice vehicle armor for expandable capability.
We need viable frameworks to get intelligence to “move at the speed of decisive action” while performing key tasks to inform commanders’ decision-making processes. The transition to reduce vulnerable forward footprints with condensed, modular systems will take time and vision.
At the core of this shift should be a sustained commitment to maneuver supported by precision fires. The Army will not perpetuate these successful institutional norms without more maneuverable BCT and battalion headquarters and complementary fires development to protect units from long-range artillery.
Pairing on-the-move mission command with at-the-halt capabilities hampers commanders’ ability to maintain tempo. Mobility enhancement and dispersion enable commanders to reduce the threat to command posts and keep vulnerable elements out of the range rings of the enemy.
Project Convergence pointed the Army in the direction it must go if it wants to shape a force for future conflict, but the effort also pushed the service toward a major cultural change.
“It’s OK to fail. We’ve done some touchpoints with soldiers, and soldiers aren’t used to failing and it actually drives them crazy when you put a piece of immature technology in their hands that doesn’t work exactly like they expect it to work.
“That’s part of the culture change: It’s OK. “You’re learning, growing and making better decisions, investments, as you continue to mature this technology. This is absolutely the way forward.”
Army has linked together experimental drones, super guns, ground robots and satellites in a massive test of its future warfare plans. The service mounted the first demonstration of Project Convergence, brought in some 34 fresh-out-of-the-lab technologies.
The goal: to show that these weapons and tools—linked and led by artificial intelligence—can allow humans to find a target, designate it as such, and strike it — from the air, from kilometers away, using any available weapon and in a fraction of the time it takes to execute that kill today.
Unity among military branches and a combined, all-domain effort could be the difference in winning large-scale, multi-domain battles the Army expects to fight in the future. To help achieve that goal, is developing of Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2, which will impact units in both branches.
Services aim to establish CJADC2 at the most “basic levels” by defining mutual standards for data sharing and service interfacing designed to deliver CJADC2 capabilities to the warfighter quicker and to promote “shared” understanding of concepts and capabilities.
“We’re going to have the capability for long-range precision fires at ranges that we’ve never even considered before. “And this will give us a cross-domain capability to work with the joint force and coalition partners, and give us capabilities that are really going to make a difference.”
In an unprecedented level of collaboration, Project Convergence has throttled the needle forward and sped the kill chain from minutes to seconds, combining over thirty technologies to alter the speed, complexity, and overall geometry of the battlefield. To be sure, the experimentation was not perfect, but the aggressive use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to sense, detect, and assign shooters to service targets was fast and rather remarkable.
“We started with a lot more technology than we demonstrated today. It was a very deliberate process of determining things that would be ready and things that would not be ready.” In some cases, the Army overshot its goal, literally. In several instances, the video of the target after the launching of effects showed the target still standing.
“Aided target recognition, it’s brittle. We need more work, more sets, to continue to train and solidify that and do it on the move with rough terrain and stability systems. The air-to-air coordination and air-to-ground, that worked extremely well. The mapping worked very well. But we all have our eyes wide open.This is a first step. We can now look ourselves in the eye and say we know exactly where we’re starting.”