Capt. Patrick Hinton/BRITISH ARMY
Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States held an experiment in California in late 2022 aimed at improving integration and interoperability among military forces, an effort that began in July 2020 when the British and U.S. armies signed a memorandum of agreement on joint modernization.
Known as Project Convergence 22 (PC22), the campaign of learning allowed the allies to merge capabilities, experimenting with new equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures through challenging scenarios against a peer “enemy” around the world, including the Indo-Pacific. The engagement allows joint forces to integrate artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomy to improve battlespace situational awareness, connect sensors and accelerate decision-making.
Troops achieved several firsts during the deployment. A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft autonomously cued fires from a U.K. Multiple Launch Rocket System. A U.K. Giraffe Agile Multi Beam radar connected to the U.S. Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) to contribute to an integrated fires network — a significant achievement as IBCS had been a U.S.-only system.
Much focus was placed on logistics and sustainment. Predictive software generated resupply recommendations within 90 seconds, a process that might have taken brigade planners several hours. An L3Harris FVR-90 remotely piloted aircraft delivered blood to a simulated mass casualty scenario while the Battlefield Assisted Trauma Distributed Observation Kit, a smartphone application, allowed networked management and effective transfer of casualties and their data.
HoloLens virtual reality goggles aided engineers in receiving expert advice on repairs. U.K. and U.S. forces also 3D-printed parts for each other’s equipment. The cooperation enhanced resilience and reduced the burden of sending equipment back and spares forward.
Data and Electromagnetic Spectrum Management
With multiple air and ground sensors deployed, it was clear that data collection does not limit multidomain integration. Rather, data management is critical. “The network is really going to be foundational,” U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at the conclusion of the 2021 project, stressing the importance of an “assured, reliable, resilient network underlying all of the systems that we’re using.”
PC22 participants explored how best to manage the flow of data, recognizing that information must be delivered to warfighters in a way that enhances battlefield situational awareness while also driving decisions.
Bandwidth was also highlighted. As Wormuth noted, a resilient network is crucial to multidomain integration. As such, networks must not be overstressed, which could prevent critical information from reaching intended recipients. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw coalition forces project from well-established bases with strong network architecture developed over years. Commanders became used to high-definition video feeds of operations. PC22 taught planners that protecting the network requires a move toward static images and even text to describe targets, and commanders have identified distributed decision-making as one solution. This concept involves analyzing data nearer its source rather than at a central hub, which can reduce bandwidth demands as well as processing delays.
Battlespace management and airspace safety become more difficult with increasing numbers of piloted and remotely operated aircraft. Better use of data and sensors is crucial to unlocking this issue, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said during PC22. For example, targeting software that disseminates information from sensors must be fully integrated between land and air forces.
During PC22, robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) were field-tested to explore how to integrate them into force design. Commanders found RAS useful for identifying and initiating contact with enemy troops, thereby reducing their own Soldiers’ exposure. Using robotic sensors ahead of troops proved invaluable, compelling opposing forces to reveal their position earlier. While RAS are proliferating, robots remain the most common facet. Remotely operated equipment exposes fewer Soldiers to danger and widens the areas of observation and operation.
Has Full Integration Occurred?
Integrating forces across national boundaries remains in its early stages, and PC22 participants emphasized that the third iteration of Project Convergence was an experiment rather than an exercise. It is important that collaboration and integration endeavors continue until the next iteration, expected to be in 2024. PC22 was a landmark event amid a regular drumbeat of smaller integration initiatives, underpinned by endeavors such as the British Army’s Future Soldier program. These efforts must be resourced and prioritized moving forward.
While barriers remain, such as differing policies and regulations, PC22 was an important step toward multidomain integration across national boundaries. The biggest gains come from deploying forces together with the freedom to troubleshoot and experiment. This will reveal the true nature of a challenge and place its resolution in the hands of those who may eventually use the concepts on the battlefield. ο
This article was originally published in December 2022 by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), as part of RUSI Defence Systems. RUSI is a U.K.-based think tank focusing on defense, security and international affairs.