Project Convergence 2021 Lessons Learned on the Dangers of Weak Network Bandwidth

Project Convergence

At the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence 2021 (PC21), each of the nation’s military services convened to test sensor-to-sensor capabilities as a joint force in a number of simulated battlefield exercises. The goal is to showcase and test emerging technologies that can expand joint all-domain operations capabilities. This year’s Project Convergence exercises saw both advancements and lessons learned in the delivery of real-time, high-definition video feeds and augmented reality. The biggest lesson learned: this technology relies heavily on a strong and reliable network connection – something that is difficult to promise on the battlefield.

During Project Convergence, military services found that passing large amounts of data from disparate systems led to inefficiencies. Bottlenecks from excess data that wasn’t critical to the mission caused compromises in picture quality and jammed networks with limited bandwidth. Military leaders questioned if these emerging technologies would clog the network and slow it down rather than accelerate mission success. Travis Thompson, deputy director for the Soldier Lethality-CFT, posed an important question regarding the high bandwidth that augmented reality video often demands: “Was that more valuable than just a picture? A picture in many cases did the exact same thing, it could go through at a higher resolution, inform the decision better.”

To address this root issue, military services are exploring refining data packages so that they’re s and easier to transmit. Rainmaker, a project under the DoD’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) data interoperability initiative, seeks to create a common data fabric that will synchronize disparate mission command systems across joint spaces. As data interoperability advances, military services will be able to look at the data fabric as a whole and explore ways AI can be used for data prioritization so that the network isn’t overloaded with superfluous information. “The challenge becomes how do you identify what information needs to go from the edge up through echelons so that the relevant data is getting to your division commander,” explained Lt. Col. Stephen Kirchhoff, air to ground lead and lead network planner for PC21.

The Army is also exploring network extension capacity through aerial platforms such as low-earth orbit satellites and long-endurance drones. The 82nd Airborne Division showcased its development of the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN), which uses radios, waveforms, and small satellite terminals to connect ground troops through a simplified, independent network solution with flexible availability. This gear was shown to operate efficiently against the simulated threats at Project Convergence. Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, held a positive view of ITN’s potential to address network bandwidth concerns: “I think it’s a very capable network to go forward as we continue to develop.”

Project Convergence continues to be a learning environment that many military leaders consider a success because it identified weaknesses in network resilience and all-domain data interoperability. More importantly, Project Convergence showed Army leaders that the network itself is among the most critical pieces to successful joint all-domain operations capabilities. Moving forward, military services must prioritize winning this “battle over bandwidth.”