Military Embedded Systems

Army Project Convergence 2023 exercises canceled, and UFOs take a high-speed turn


March 14, 2023

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

U.S. Army graphic by Army Futures Command

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG. As I was putting together my notes about all the Army’s Project Convergence Exercises, I got a notice that the planned PC-23 exercises had been cancelled and rescheduled for 2024. That’s a great disappointment, so let's drown our sorrows in a vintage bottle of data from the three previous exercises: PC-20, PC-21, and PC-22.

PC-20 was mostly an Army-only affair, testing 30 new technologies. They connected two sensors (an unmanned aerial vehicle and a satellite), one shooter (a cannon), and a processing server together on the network, cutting the time for detecting and identifying an enemy target, and launching a weapon at it, from 20 minutes down to 20 seconds. Two primary technologies were tested: artificial intelligence software like Rainmaker, Prometheus, Firestorm, and SHOT (all covered in a previous article here), and autonomous vehicles in the air and on the ground. SHOT stands for Synchronized High Optempo Targeting. PC-20 involved six possible sensor-to-shooter Kill Web links, three battlefield scenarios, and about 500 people. In PC-21, 110 new technologies, from sensors to advanced networking, were tested. And it was an inter-service affair, with platforms from Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Space Force involved. They zinged ISR data (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) from aerial drones, ground vehicles, and platforms from the other services up to satellites. Then, that data was sent to the servers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state where it was processed and the refined targeting data sent back up to the satellites, and then down to a long-range cannon in Yuma, AZ. That cannon autonomously adjusted for direction, range, wind, and Coriolis Effect, and fired a round that hit an old tank sitting in the desert about 40 miles away. This version of the Kill Web used 27 possible sensor-to-shooter links (between 15 sensors, 19 shooters, and the processing servers), during 7 battlefield scenarios, and involved  about 1,500 people. So, PC-21 scaled-up the Kill Web, pushed a lot more data around on the network to different services’ platforms, and looked to find where the problems cropped-up. And problems they found. They had trouble creating the COP (common operating picture) quickly and sending it to all the different services’ commanders and military bases involved in the exercise. Maybe all that data clogged-up the network and introduced latencies. Last year, PC-22 tested about 300 new technologies. Sensors, weapons, and soldiers from England and Australia, along with some people from Japan, Philippines, Canada, and New Zealand, actively participated with the Army or observed the exercises. So, PC-22 was an international affair and scaled-up again, pushing data around on the network to multiple bases in California, Hawaii, and Australia. It was interesting that the SHOT algorithms were used again in this exercise, to connect Navy Tomahawk missiles, SM-6 missiles, and Army LRHW (long range hypersonic weapon) into the Kill Web network.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here.

It’s hard to tell how many sensor-to-shooter links were possible in this exercise. Several Army units were operating swarms of drones. Many soldiers in Australia were receiving and sending data through their mixed-reality headsets to the network, along with what was coming from all the sensors and weapons platforms. PC-22 involved two basic scenarios, with some sub-scenarios underneath them. One was the European scenario (basically, ground warfare problems), and the other was the Asia-Pacific scenario (solving anti-access/area-denial problems). From what I can tell, there were thousands of people and more than a hundred platforms involved in PC-22. That would suggest many more sensor-to-shooter Kill Web links. The basic formula for the number of dedicated links needed in a full mesh network is N(N-1)/2 (where N is the number of nodes), but that doesn’t work well here. Lots of nodes in the Kill Web connect through gateways (aggregation), not directly to each other. So, my guess is about 100 possible sensor-to-shooter links (about 4 times the possible links in PC-21, which was about four times the possible links in PC-20). Now, why was PC-23 cancelled and rescheduled? Budget issues? I remember back in 2021, the Air Force budget for their ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System) exercises was cut in half, from $302 Million to $159 Million. Technical issues? I remember when the Navy got into trouble implementing unproven technologies on the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) boats, the Zumwalt destroyer, and the catapult and elevator systems on the new Ford carrier. Then, I read in late February where the Pentagon told the Army Futures Command to stop working on Army-2030 plans, and start thinking about Army-2040 plans. Army Futures Command runs the Project Convergence exercises, and it looks like they have been sidelined for a while. Will that command be diminished or dissolved? Hard to say at this point. The Army Modernization Plan contains six priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, air and missile defense, the network, and soldier lethality. So, let’s look at what is happening with them. Back in 2021, they cancelled their project to develop the SLRC (Strategic Long-Range Cannon), that would fire a projectile more than 1,000 miles. The Crusader self-propelled howitzer and the Comanche helicopter were cancelled years ago. The NGCV (Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, to replace the Bradley) program has been oscillating for several years, trying to decide on armor, weaponry, unmanned or manned capability, range, weight, and load capacity. Five companies have been given contracts to build prototypes of the OMFV (Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle) for testing. Back in December, the Army awarded Bell/Textron a $1.3 Billion contract to build the V-280 tilt-rotor aircraft (under their future vertical lift priority), to replace the Black Hawk helicopters. Sikorsky and Boeing, who proposed a traditional overhead-blade helicopter design, filed a protest a few weeks later. So, that program is jammed-up for a while. The Army has taken a layered approach to air and missile defense. Along with advanced radars, they see directed energy and laser weapons for short-range threats, a possible replacement for the Patriot missile system at midrange, and new traditional missiles for longer range targets. You already know about the Army’s Kill Web network and the AI algorithms running on it (mentioned above). And finally, there’s soldier lethality. New more powerful rifles and machine guns are coming to the troops, along with augmented reality headsets, new radios, and improved night vision goggles. The Army cancelled their MULE program (a 4-legged robot for carrying supplies along with the troops on foot) and we haven’t heard much about soldier robotic exoskeletons lately either. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the primary Army combat formation in battle was the BCT (brigade combat team) of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. But in a potential war in Europe or Asia-Pacific, larger forces will be required to cover larger areas. So, the top Pentagon brass now say the primary combat units in those battles must be either a division (10,000 to 15,000 soldiers) or a corps (20,000 to 45,000 soldiers). So, there seems to be some major operational and force structure changes happening, that must be integrated into the Army modernization plans. Put this all together (budget issues, technical issues, operational issues, organizational issues), and that’s a bunch of potential reasons why PC-23 was cancelled and rescheduled.

UFOs Before we part company here, let’s take a look at something more intriguing: UFOs. The ODNI (Office of Director of National Intelligence) and the AARO (All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office), previously known as AOIMSG (Airborne Object Identification Management Synchronization Group), also previously known as UAPTF (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force), released their second UFO report in January (you can read it on the web). It was actually scheduled to be released last October. They announced that they have reviewed 510 UFO reports. Of those, 339 have have been explained as balloons, blowing trash, drones, planets, cloud formations, or birds. They have no idea what those remaining 171 objects are. This report is 12 pages of pure government pablum. It looks like they spent more time on the name changes than writing the report. Congress has ordered the AARO to investigate all UFO reports, all the way back to 1945 (that includes the Roswell Incident in 1947), so they are digging through old records now. In June, NASA announced the formation of a 16-member committee of scientists to study all the UFO data. Harvard University (Galileo Project), Scientific Coalition for UFO Studies, UAPx (a Florida company), and Enigma Labs (New York) have all started UFO studies. And after the Chinese ballon incident in early February, the White House is forming yet another team to study unidentified flying objects. You can bet that we will see more independent study groups formed in the future, and a lot more pablum. Before any of these committees come to a conclusion about UFOs, we will all be up to our armpits in little gray aliens.

Markets In 2022, I collected 52 market research reports about the forecasts for military equipment purchases worldwide. I found sevn new ones in January, and another seven in February. Then, there’s the Defense 100 list, a list of the top 100 defense contractors in the world and their sales for the previous year. That report is typically released in the summer of each year. All this data is collected from the supply-side (the suppliers of military equipment and systems), so it’s a bit questionable. More reliable data comes from the demand-side. There are 195 countries in the world today, and SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) releases a comprehensive report every year, on the imports and exports of military platforms for each country, for the previous year (the 2022 SIPRI report is due out in the next month or so). Then we have the military budgets for the year, for all the major countries. Many of those budgets are on the web. For the next few months of articles, let’s take take a look at the world markets for military platforms (planes, ships, tanks, ground vehicles, radar, sonar, communications, satellites, UAVs, helicopters, etc) and integrate the supply-side and demand-side data from the reports mentioned above. That should give us a better understanding of the military markets and what is going on. The data is available, but nobody has put it all together. So, let’ take a crack at connecting these disparate dots.

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