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May 29, 2020 | International, Aerospace

Army Invites Air Force ABMS To Big Network Test: Project Convergence

This fall's experiment will study how the Army's own weapons can share target data, Gen. Murray said, but in 2021 he wants to add the Air Force's ABMS network.

By on May 28, 2020 at 5:06 PM

WASHINGTON: Damn the pandemic, full speed ahead. The four-star chief of Army Futures Command plans to hold a high-tech field test in the southwest desert this fall, COVID-19 or no.

Called Project Convergence, the exercise will test sharing of targeting data amongst the Army's newest weapons, including aerial scouts, long-range missile launchers and armored vehicles. The Army also wants to plug in its new anti-aircraft and missile defense systems, AFC head Gen. Mike Murray told reporters, but those technologies are at a critical juncture in their own individual test programs – some of which was delayed by COVID – and they may not be ready on time for this fall.

“I'm going to try to drag them all into this,” Murray said. The experiment, set to begin in late August or early September, will definitely include the Army's Artificial Intelligence Task Force, as well as four of its eight modernization Cross Functional Teams. That's Long-Range Precision Fires (i.e. artillery), Future Vertical Lift aircraft (including drones), and the tactical network, he said, plus the Next Generation Combat Vehicle team in “a supporting role.”

What about the Air & Missile Defense team? “We'll see,” Murray said. “Right now... I'm very cautious, because of the two major tests they've got going on this fall in terms of IBCS and IMSHORAD.” IBCS is the Army's new command network for air and missile defense units, which had to delay a major field test due to COVID. IMSHORAD is an 8×8 Stryker armored vehicle fitted with anti-aircraft missiles and guns, which Murray said is now delayed “a few months” by software problems.

Meanwhile, the Air Force – with some input from the other services – will be testing its own nascent data-sharing network. That's the ambitious Advanced Battle Management System, the leading candidate to be the backbone of a future Joint All-Domain Command & Control (JADC2) network-of-networks linking all the armed services.

The Air Force's ABMS experiment will be separate from the Army's Project Convergence exercise happening at roughly the same time this fall, Murray said. But he wants to hold a Convergence test each year from now on, he told reporters, and he wants to bring in ABMS in 2021.

“In '20, we're parallel, not interconnected,” he said. “Our desire is to bring them closer and closer together, beginning in '21.”

Sensor To Shooter

Murray spoke via phone to the Defense Writers Group, along with the Army's civilian chief of acquisition, Bruce Jette. While the two men's roles and organizations are kept distinct by law, they've been joined at the hip on modernization, and Jette – a scientist, engineer, and inventor — is clearly enthused about the experiment.

“We are looking at the potential integration of all of our fires into a fires network,” Jette told the listening reporters. Currently, he explained, the Army has one network, AFATDS, to pass data about ground targets to its offensive artillery units – howitzers, rocket launchers, surface-to-surface missiles. Meanwhile, it's developing a different network, IBCS, to share data on flying targets – incoming enemy rockets, missiles, and aircraft – amongst its air and missile defense units.

The two networks and the sensors that feed them must meet very different technical demands, since shooting down a missile requires split-second precision that bombarding a tank battalion does not. But there's also great potential for the two to share data and work together. For example, the defensive side can figure out where enemy missiles are launching from, then tell the offensive side so it can blow up the enemy launchers before they fire again.

“If I can bring the two of them together,” Jette said, you can use a sensor the Army already developed, bought and fielded to spot targets for one weapon – say, the Q-53 artillery radar – to feed targeting data into a totally different type of weapon – say, a Patriot battery. Artificial intelligence could pull together data from multiple sensors, each seeing the same target in different wavelengths or from a different angle, to build a composite picture more precise than its parts.

“We're moving past just simple concepts of sensors and shooters,” Jette said. “How do we get multiple sensors and shooters [integrated] such that we get more out of them than an individual item could provide?”

Looking across the Army's 34 top modernization programs, Murray said, “an individual capability is interesting, but the effect is greater than the sum of the parts. There have to be connections between these [programs]. And that's really the secret sauce I'm not going to explain in detail, ever.”

Testing, Testing

What Murray would share, however, was that the Army got to test a slightly less ambitious sensor-to-shooter link in Europe earlier this year, as part of NATO's Defender 2020 wargames. The field experiment fed data from a wide range of sources – in space, in the air, and on the ground – to an Army howitzer unit, he said.

However, the Army had also wanted to experiment with new headquarters and organizations to command and control ultra-long-range artillery, Murray said, and those aspects of the massive exercise had to be cancelled due to COVID. The service is looking at alternative venues, such as its Combat Training Centers, but “it's just hard to replicate what Defender 2020 offered us,” he said. “What we lost was the largest exercise we've done and the largest deployment of forces in a very, very long time.”

That makes the stakes even higher for Project Convergence. “You can call it an experiment, you can call it a demonstration,” Murray said. “Right now, the plan is we're going to do this every year... every fall as we continue to mature... this architecture that brings the sensors to the right shooter and through the right headquarters.”

While this year's Convergence exercise will focus on the Army, Murray is already working with the Air Force to meld the two next year. “We have been in discussion with the Air Force for the better part of the year on how we integrate with the effort they have going on,” he said. “I was actually out at Nellis the last time they had a live meeting on JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command & Control] with all of the architects of ABMS.”

Those discussions made very clear to both the Army and the Air Force participants that “it all comes down to data and it all comes down to the architectures you build,” Murray said.

“As Bruce [Jette] talked about, it's not a specific sensor to a specific shooter,” he said. “On a future battlefield... just about everything is going to be a sensor. So how you do you store that data and how do you enable a smart distribution of data to the right shooter? Because we can't build architectures that are relying upon huge pipes and just massive bandwidth to make it work.”

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    By: Andrew Chuter LONDON — What few headlines were generated by the recent virtual Farnborough International Air Show centered on Britain's next-generation Tempest fighter and the efforts to build a business case for the program. The real Farnborough air show may have fallen victim to COVID-19, but with the Tempest team scheduled to deliver an outline business case for the next stage of the program to the government later this year the event provided a platform stress the importance of the project to jobs, the technology base and sustainment of operational sovereignty here. Britain launched the effort to look at developing the technologies required to build a sixth-generation combat jet two years ago under the name of Team Tempest, with BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce partnering with the Ministry of Defence in the effort. 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It is also too soon to rule out the possibility of a realignment of some description with the rival Franco-German-Spanish future combat air program, said Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank in London. “I think there's still a considerable period to go where alignments could change – with the possibility members could join or leave,” he said. Howard Wheeldon, of consultants Wheeldon Strategic Advisory, sees no chance of the two programs merging but reckons national line-ups could change. “I would rule out any thought of a merger between the two European projects, although I would never rule out the possibility of Germany jumping ship,” he said. With or without additional partners, always assuming Swedish and Italian Governments sign up for some sort of deal, Wheeldon reckons the British will stick with Tempest. “While the ideal situation would be an increase in the number of Team Tempest partner nations, such is the importance now being placed on future combat air systems and Team Tempest by the government I take the view that even if no other partners arrive the U.K. will not walk away from Tempest,” he said. For the moment, though, attention is focused on Team Tempest and the progress being made with its current would-be partners to study a potential tie-up around development of future combat air systems for the British and Italian operated Typhoon and Saab Gripen E combat jets and, ultimately, the building of the sixth-generation Tempest to be ready sometime between 2035 and 2040. The British have over 60 combat air technology demonstrations underway co-funded by the government and industry. Talks between the industrial partners of Britain, Italy and Sweden,which had previously been on a bilateral basis, have now been ratcheted up to trilateral discussions, strengthening potential research and development collaborations. “We've made good progress with Saab and Leonardo in identifying shared goals and expertise and through this new framework, we can build on this collaboration to unlock the huge potential across our three nations,” said BAE CEO Charles Woodburn. The three national industries comprise BAE, Leonardo UK, Rolls Royce and MBDA UK from Britain; Leonardo, Elettronica, Avio Aero and MBDA Italia from Italy; and Sweden's Saab and GKN Aerospace Sweden. Additionally, Saab also used the virtual show to announce it was investing £50 million in the creation of a future combat air system hub and other activities in the U.K. The location and timing of the investment have not yet been declared by Saab but there is talk here that the center could be close to BAE's combat jet operations in northwest England. Saab CEO Micael Johansson said the move signaled the company's commitment to combat air development and the growth of its interests in the U.K. Tempest itself didn't rate a mention in the Saab statement, with the company only referring to future combat air system development work. “Saab took the decision to create a new future combat air system centre so that we can further develop the close working relationship with the other future combat air system industrial partners and the U.K. MoD. This emphasizes the importance of both future combat air systems and the U.K. to Saab's future,” said Johansson. The Tempest industrial effort has also been further broadened with the signing up of a clutch of systems suppliers. Bombardier in Northern Ireland, GKN, Martin Baker and Qinetiq, alongside the U.K. arms of Collins Aerospace, GE Aviation and Thales have signed up to collaborate on the demonstration program. So far only Collins Aerospace Systems has declared its hand on the nature of the work they will be undertaking. The company said it had been awarded a contract by BAE to provide advanced actuation capabilities, including for use on Tempest. Separately, GKN Aerospace in Sweden revealed July 22 it is participating in a future fighter engine feasibility study along with Rolls-Royce and Avio Aero of Italy. Richard Aboulafia, vice president at the Teal Group, said progress signing up the systems suppliers was a significant move. “My big take away from virtual Farnborough is that Tempest increasingly looks like a real program, with a very heavy level of involvement from subcontractors, who of course need to start developing systems,” said Aboulafia. Despite the fact COVID-19 has pretty much sucked the life out of the U.K.'s finances for now, the feeling among analysts is that Tempest will survive a potentially perfect storm of severe defense budget restrictions and an integrated defense, security and foreign policy review ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and due to report next year. 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