Network, GPS Will Be Jammed in Project Convergence 2021

 In Army, Space, U.S. Army
Russian MOD photo

Russian Borisoglebsk-2 long-range EW system with antenna mast deployed.

WASHINGTON: The Army plans to ramp up the realism in next year’s Project Convergence wargames, bringing in live combat units, electronic warfare and other elements missing from the inaugural exercise this fall.

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

Brig. Gen. Richard Ross Coffman

As Breaking D readers know, the Army will also stage a long-range missile test in next year’s exercise and bring in participants from the other services. “The Air Force, the Marines, and the Navy have all committed to Project Convergence 21,” the exercise director, Brig. Gen. Richard Ross Coffman, told reporters this afternoon.

The new information we heard for the first time, however, was about the new ways in which Army will test its battle network. No existing Army system could provide the long-range, high-speed connections “from space to mud” that Project Convergence required. So, the service kludged together cutting-edge technologies – some almost ready to field, some straight out of the lab – to move targeting data from satellites in orbit to guns on the ground in 20 seconds.

But it took six weeks of hard work in the desert to get that ad hoc network to function, and coders were fixing software on the spot throughout the exercise. So this fall’s wargames didn’t include the kind of active interference with network transmissions that a real-world adversary like Russia or China would certainly employ.

Army photo

Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher

“it was not part of the Project Convergence 2020 scenario, because in many cases we were trying to pull together [technologies] for the very first time,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, network modernization director at Army Futures Command. “It will be part of Project Convergence ’21. The intent is to have an EW, electronic warfare scenario, and have much more of a contested battlespace.”

The Army will also test how its new technologies function without a satellite-generated GPS signal, added Willie Nelson, Futures Command’s space modernization guru. “Some of that was tested out this year; you’ll see a whole [lot] of that in Project Convergence ’21,” Nelson said. “We’ll physically deny the GPS [signal] and be able to fight and win in that environment.”

What about space warfare and anti-satellite capabilities? While the Army won’t directly simulate those in next year’s exercises, it will do a robust test run of a potential solution: augmenting traditional Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) satellites with larger numbers of lower-cost, lower-altitude birds in Medium and Low Earth Orbit (MEO and LEO). “We’re bringing the size down. We’re bringing the cost down,” Nelson said, which reduces the benefit an enemy gets from expending their scarce anti-satellite weapons.

screenshot of Defense News video

Willie Nelson addresses a Defense News webcast

This fall’s Project Convergence featured some MEO and LEO “demonstrations,” Nelson said, but they weren’t part of the operational network transmitting targeting data to shooters: Next year, they will be.

Another big addition in Project Convergence 2021 will be the participation of operational combat units. This fall’s exercise involved a relative handful of forces, including a swarm of ALE mini-drones, a few Grey Eagles, some MRAPs and Humvees acting as surrogates for future ground vehicles, and the sole existing prototype of the ERCA long-range cannon. “We’re going to need to scale that up to the platoon level,” Coffman told me in a recent interview.

One thing that will still be absent from Project Convergence 2021: live troops acting as an “enemy” Opposing Force (OPFOR). But that’s simply because the Army wants to fire live ammunition in these exercises – making it distinctly unwise to put human beings at the target point.

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