US Army to test robotic vehicles on land and sea during Project Convergence 22

Industry partners working with the U.S. Army and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) engineers will fly a pilotless UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying up to 3,000 pounds on supply runs as part of its annual Project Convergence experiments this fall. In addition, the range of the tests will expand significantly across the Pacific. Joe Lacdan, Army News Service, reports.
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Pfc. Daniel Candales, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, uses the tactical robotic controller to control the expeditionary modular autonomous vehicle as a practice exercise in preparation for Project Convergence 21 on Oct. 19, 2021 (Picture source: U.S. Army/Patrick Hunter)

Lt. Gen. Scott McKean, director of Army Futures Command’s Futures and Concepts Center, said that autonomous vehicles will cover great distances on land and sea during the joint experiments of PC 22 (Project Convergence 2022), which the Army designed to augment joint, all-domain command and control, or JADC2. The Army will work to reduce the number of soldiers necessary to operate the autonomous vehicles, eventually having a single Soldier controlling multiple vehicles, McKean said.

The experiments will be held at locations in the Pacific and at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in October and November. JADC2 is the Defense Department’s concept for joint warfighting. “Autonomous capability is at the forefront of what we believe our next operating concept will be based on,” McKean said during the Defense One State of the Army conference on Sept. 7. “Why do you need a Black Hawk? Think of the capacity that a Black Hawk provides in the sense of carry capabilities. It really will help us provide commanders options.”

As part of the Army’s broader modernization efforts, PC 22 will help validate the Army 2030 multi-domain operations goals. The Army plans to publish its new, Army 2030 multi-domain operations doctrine this fall.

In addition to the autonomous Black Hawk, the service will deploy air and ground robotic vehicles from the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia during tests at Yuma Camp Pendleton, California, and the National Training Center in San Bernardino County. “This is convergence,” McKean said. “How do we pass the data from those robotic vehicles back to the command post so commanders can make sense and act on what those systems are providing? This is going to be a great learning opportunity to see just where we are”. In addition, the Army will test its ability to “swarm” using a group of drones controlled by a single soldier.

This year the experiments will include participation from all six military branches including the Space Force as well as the British and Australian militaries. Carrier strike groups and the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet elements will be stationed in the Pacific and sensors will be placed in areas from Japan to Australia.

McKean said that Project Convergence 2021 set the foundation for this fall’s iteration, allowing the Army to build greater levels of integration with other military branches.

This year the series of experiments will be divided into two phases. First, the services will operate in a Pacific environment; engaging under maritime conditions and long distances. Then, the experiments will move to land-dominant scenarios. There will also be an additional combat simulation at Yuma, where the Army is working with industry solutions to develop battlefield dynamics with feedback from military representatives.

“It is not an Army experiment. This is not how the Army is approaching JADC2,” McKean said “This is truly a joint, and combined experiment venue to inform JADC2 as well as other capabilities that we’re trying to develop out as part of our modernization process.”

McKean said the scenarios revolve around three objectives. First, the militaries will establish integrated air and missile defense through the development of protective and defensive fires. Second, participants will be employing joint, offensive fires and the ability to hit targets and great distances. Finally, the Army will examine which authorities and policies hinder its ability to fight as a joint combat force. The military branches will also focus on establishing proper communications between each service’s command post.

“We’re looking at both mass and precision,” he said. “That was part of the objective to scale this experiment establishing a mission partner network. We understand that we’re not going to be able to fight without our allies and partners.”