Project Convergence – new takeaways from the Army’s campaign of learning in multi-domain operations
"If you're a firing battery, you have to move quickly and constantly. You cannot stay in the same location, and you have to expect there's gonna be periods of disconnection (but) you have to be able to operate in that and still deliver fires, still know where you are, still have the right information at your fingertips." - John George
In defense operations, there is no room for error. Decisions need to be made fast, but they also need to be the right decisions. To make the right decisions, the speed of vital communication and information can be the difference between a successful mission and a failed one. That's where Leidos comes in.
Leidos is in partnership with the United States Department of Defense on JADC2, or Joint All-Domain Command Control and the Army’s version of JADC2 – Project Convergence – to ensure the most advanced tech and procedures are available. In this episode, John George, Vice President and Army Senior Account Executive and Dan McCormack, Program Manager of C4ISR Solutions, join to explain what JADC2 and Project Convergence are, how Leidos is involved, and why the initiatives are so vital to American defense.
On today's podcast:
- What Joint All-Domain Command Control (JADC2) and Project Convergence are
- How the initiatives fit together and why they're so important
- How Leidos is involved
John George: If you're a firing battery, you have to move quickly and constantly. You cannot stay in the same location and you have to expect there's going to be periods of dysconnectivity, and you have to be able to operate in that and still deliver fire, still know where you are, still have the right information at your fingertips.
Shaunté Newby: Having modern and fast technology is crucial for any organization. But when it comes to our national defense, being outdated simply isn't an option.
John George: We never want to send our soldiers into a fair fight. We want them to have the advantage, and for our adversaries to not even want to pick a fight with us because we have such an advantage.
Shaunté Newby: But to be ahead is only getting more complicated. The battlefield is growing.
John George: We've always had land, air and sea, and now we've added space and cyber, and that's a pretty big change when you're not used to taking those things into your calculus of decision-making and how to operate.
Shaunté Newby: That's why Leidos is working hard in partnership with the United States Department of Defense to ensure there is no opportunity to fall behind.
Dan McCormack: We really recognize change as the norm not the exception.
Shaunté Newby: On today's episode, we welcome John George, Vice President and Army Senior Account Executive, and Dan McCormack, Program Manager at C4ISR Solutions. They join us to share how Leidos is working with the US Army on Project Convergence, and in turn, with the DOD on Joint All Domain Command and Control or JADC2. We'll learn more about Leidos digital modernization approach in a defense environment, why the cloud plays such a crucial role and a lot more.
Shaunté Newby: My name is Shaunté Newby. This is MindSET, a podcast by Leidos. In this series, our goal is to have you walk away from every episode with a new understanding of the complex and fascinating technological advancement going on at Leidos. From space IT to trusted AI, to threat-informed cyber security, we've got a lot going on and we're excited to share it with you. I want to start off by getting to know the two of you a bit better. John let's start with you. Can you tell me about your military background first?
John George: So, I retired just over a year ago from the Army. My last command was the Combat Capabilities Development Command under the Army Futures Command. And so essentially that command is responsible for all the research and development or most of the research and development for the Army to solve its hardest problems.
Shaunté Newby: And what do you do at Leidos?
John George: As the Army Strategic Account Executive, I look at the Army as Leidos' customer and generally make sure that between our company and the Army, we have a trusted and transparent relationship, that we have the right conversation so that the company understands what the Army's capability gaps are and what they're trying to achieve, and also help across all of our product lines, help the company understand vice versa what the Army needs and in the context that it needs those capabilities.
Shaunté Newby: Dan, you also have an impressive military background. Can you share a bit about that with us?
Dan McCormack: I actually spent 10 years in the Air Force, Special Weapons and Special Operations, and then switched over to the Army, OCS graduate and then 11 years in the Army. Most of that in the Army National Guard but also a tour at the Mounted Warfighting Battlespace Lab specializing in digital modernization a long time ago. So, I do have 21 years total service.
Shaunté Newby: And what do you do at Leidos?
Dan McCormack: As a Senior Program Manager for fires modernization, I'm the single point of communication, everything from contracts to technical data, to communications with the customer, to intra-communications with our team and also collaboration with our Leidos partners and supporting organizations on the fires modernization efforts.
Shaunté Newby: Let's get into what Project Convergence is. What can you tell me?
John George: So in simple terms, Project Convergence is an experiment and it's spearheaded by the Army's Futures Command and is referred to as a Combined Joint Force Experiment, meaning combined is, it includes our allies and our partners, and in this case, the UK and Australia are a part of the experiment, and joint means it's got all of our partners from the Joint Force, Air Force, Navy, Marines, etcetera. And the purpose of the experiment is for that Joint Force to develop offensive and defensive capabilities so that it can deter future adversaries in large ground combat operations or large-scale ground combat operations. Focuses on delivering effects and what's important for the Army as they experiment is, with speed, the range that's required, convergence of capabilities and developing decision dominance. And that's to achieve what we call overmatch and to inform how the joint force will fight together in the future to be dominant and to achieve, as you said, Joint All Domain Command and Control or JADC2 is the way we refer to it.
John George: And really, it's a campaign of learning. It's not just a one-and-done thing. It leverages a series of these joint experiments, multi-domain engagements and a couple of the key facets is to integrate artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomy to do things like improve battlefield situational awareness and to connect sensors with shooters across a wide variety of networks, and then to accelerate the decision-making time for the commanders on the ground.
Shaunté Newby: I understand this is relatively new. Can you take us back in time a few years and tell us about when it was realized there was a need for this?
John George: In 2019, Army's Futures Command started this Project Convergence. Army Futures Command was new at the time. It had just been established in 2018. And the leadership saw the need to integrate and experiment with all these new capabilities coming online and those things that are under development, to make sure that the disparate new capabilities and these systems could talk to each other, and it was just a few systems, a few mission threads. And then the realization, that aha moment that some of the senior leaders had was when we saw this for the first time and said, "We really need to expand this."
Shaunté Newby: How is Project Convergence related to JADC2?
John George: I think it's important because contextually, you have to understand what the Army is trying to accomplish. So again, JADC2, that's how DOD views how the forces operate together as Joint All Domain Command and Control. It's a concept and now it's a strategy that the Department of Defense is driving towards in order to provide an approach for the warfighters across the different services when they're engaged or preparing to engage in conflict, to sense, make sense and then act at all levels in phases of war, and that's across all domains and with our partners. We've always had land, air and sea, and now we've added space and cyber and that's a pretty big change when you're not used to taking those things into your calculus of decision-making and how to operate. So, I guess in the simplest terms, if you think about for the Army, JADC2 is being able to use all of the sensors available to get information to the best shooter through the right command and control node. And by shooter, it's not just kinetic effects, it's not just putting rounds on range. Now, we also have to think about cyber, EW and information too.
Shaunté Newby: You mentioned the word overmatch. So, I'm curious, what is meant by overmatch and how is the Army's experimentation supporting this ongoing objective?
John George: It's a great question and it's one that people get confused about easily, so I just want to clarify up front this term overmatch. A lot of listeners have probably heard about Project Overmatch, so we have Project Convergence in the Army, Project Overmatch in its simplest term is the Navy's version really of Project Convergence. It's one way that the Navy is learning about the same sorts of things with Joint All Domain Command and Control, the JADC2 for the future warfare. I would just say simply stated, overmatch is really having military superiority. It's when the sum of our military capabilities outweigh our adversaries' capabilities and is usually focused around achieving military objectives from competition, before conflict, through crisis, and then into armed conflict. The combination of those capabilities is not only the equipment, the modern equipment that we have, but it's also how the forces are trained, organized, are they led by great leaders and have superior people and talent in their formations? I would say another sort of common sentiment that you hear a lot of times from Army leaders is that "We never want to send our soldiers into a fair fight. We want them to have the advantage and for our adversaries to not even want to pick a fight with us because we have such an advantage." And that's the outcome of overmatch, Shaunté.
Shaunté Newby: So, I'm curious and I don't know if you can answer this or not, but would you say that this is more focused on defense or offense or both?
John George: Yeah, it's really both but in the context of the way the Army fights in Multi-Domain Operations, it's an offensive concept in our doctrine. But you have to have ways of protecting your formations even when you are engaged. So, think about the European Theater and the use of UAVs to identify where formations are and then the ability for the Russians, in this case, to deliver long-range fires, you've got to be able to protect your formations in a layer of defense approach.
Shaunté Newby: Project Convergence 2022 often referred to as PC22 is a vast effort. By nature, the initiative is wide-reaching with a lot of players involved. Leidos has had the honor of being selected to participate since it's inception. I had John share more about what exactly Leidos is contributing.
John George: We know that Leidos has a lot to offer the joint warfighter and those things are being demonstrated in PC22. Really, the two things that we're doing in PC22, one is we won't talk much about today, but it's novel sensors that's coming out of Dynetics, and those sensors are being integrated into the network to provide information to the warfighter. And then the one that I think is useful for our conversation is how we're enabling Long Range Precision Fires to increase accuracy and the speed of delivering those effects even in a contested GPS environment and electromagnetic spectrum environment where, in both of those cases, you're contested and systems don't always work properly, but you still have to deliver long-range effects.
Shaunté Newby: So, for someone that's not really close to this type of stuff, what is Long Range Precision Fires? What is that?
John George: First of all, it's really, really important to the Army. In fact, it's their number one modernization priority, Long Range Precision Fires, or, again, another acronym, LRPF. Think about, if you've been to a revolutionary or Civil War battlefield and you see the rows of cannons and mortars. Yeah, so taking us back a little bit. That used to be long-range position, our long-range fires that day, right? They could fire canons about 1500 yards, that's under a mile, but it was not precise for sure. They didn't really know where those cannon balls would land a lot of times. So today, the Army has cannon artillery that can shoot over 43 Miles, rockets that can shoot over 90 miles, a missile in development that can shoot over 400 miles, and hypersonics that are under development that actually Leidos is a participant in and delivering critical capability, can shoot over 1700 miles. So that's long range. You're getting way out in distance to be able to engage your adversary. And with the right guidance systems on those capabilities, you can deliver very precise down to, let's just say, meters, to be able to hit your target.
John George: So, we know that we can shoot that far, but long-range fires needs long-range sensors. You need to able to identify targets at the range and as a system, you have to have all these components. You have to have the ability to store, use and deliver data across those numerous networks to get the right targeting. So again, Long Range Precision Fires, really, the overall objective is to shoot long-range with the accuracy of very high caliber ammunitions and combined with digital modernization, the network to deliver these things. It's a critical component of Multi-Domain Operation and it's going to allow the commanders, if they can do that, to, again, open windows of opportunities so they can get into the fight. They have to actually get in to be able to maneuver and then depose multiple dilemmas to our enemies and our adversaries.
Shaunté Newby: What is Leidos' approach to modernization there? And how does it provide the operational advantage we spoke about? And we'd like to hear from you, Dan.
Dan McCormack: To answer that question, it's probably best to set some context. So, we've been working this for about three years. In 2021, we were invited to support the Army Futures Command, Long Range Precision Fires Combined Functional Team, so the LRPFCFT Project Convergence '22, PC22, with a product called CFATDS. Now CFATDS is simply the name for a cloud-deployed instance of the currently fielded version of the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, AFATDS, within a virtual machine as opposed to the standard Miltope laptop that's issued and used throughout the Army today. So that was one invitation. And the other invitation was based on our submission to the DevCom portal for Edge to Cloud or as we refer to it E2C. But these two efforts are symbiotic as E2C provides a way to manage the remote cloud nodes from the enterprise, while CFATDS and the related microservices use that infrastructure to support LRPF fires capability, and so they live on that E2C infrastructure.
Dan McCormack: So E2C is the utility and CFATDS is an appliance and so that's how we think of it. And so those were the two reasons why we got into modernization because we were working both the cloud infrastructure and also the use of that infrastructure for a very specific mission set. So, our work was really a journey of discovery. It's almost like a kitchen remodel that ends up going from a simple cabinet upgrade to pretty much everything. So we really had to dig across the entire portfolio and realize pretty quickly that continuous modernization became a key output. We saw that we could use the E2C infrastructure to provision and then continuously update any node and any software on that node. And so, once that's in place, the only limitations to the rate of change is the policies and the capacity for change. So, it really changed how we thought about modernizing capabilities to the field. So, when we talk about nodes, we're talking about small devices that are out at the tactical edge. So given that context, here's how we approached continuous digital modernization.
Dan McCormack: So, the first is we provided an Edge to Cloud infrastructure and services to deploy a consistent cloud stack from the enterprise to small, portable commodity edge devices at the tactical edge. And then second, we deployed legacy applications to the cloud, legacy applications being those monolithic software that's currently deployed, currently being used, we put those on the cloud. And then once we did that, third, we developed microservices to connect, enhance and adapt those applications and extend them. And so what that enabled then was several key benefits to the joint warfighters information systems. Microservices enable incremental refactoring of legacy code. So, in other words, if you have code that can be replaced over time with lightweight containerized microservices, the user's experience can remain the same, so there's no impact to training, there's no impact to readiness, while in the backend, many of the processes, the computation, other factors are being done much faster, much easier to maintain, much easier to update. And then also the code, it can be continually modernized. So we've proven that we can provision and manage a cloud node from any authorized node to any node.
Dan McCormack: So, if a node is connected to a network, it can be provisioned to sustain. Doing this connection, the very act of doing these connections, these microservices to connect application A to application B, is we're identifying data producers and consumers. So, what this produces then is a data catalog as an output of the data as it is, not as we hope it to be or think it is, which is critical, and this is really critical to enabling data as ammunition which the Secretary of Defense has said and Secretary of Armies have said, data is now ammunition. So, the first part to that is identifying what data is available in your current ecosystem and then managing that. So that's a key output. So, at PC22, we're demonstrating the operational advantage of the cloud to the tactical edge even in disconnected austere environments which by nature the tactical edge is.
Shaunté Newby: So, does this mean that the end-user has to go all in on the cloud or can there be a hybrid approach?
Dan McCormack: Not at all. In fact, at PC22, we're demonstrating fire mission threads across hybrid environments. So, for example, CFATDS, that cloud deployed AFATDS, it's deployed on the Army Enterprise Cloud, but it's also deployed on an edge node. Think of a subset or a piece of the cloud that gets disconnected from time to time. And either instance then can connect to a standard legacy Miltope AFATDS. So, when artillery soldiers go to the field today, they bring AFATDS on a laptop, it's called the Miltope, and we can connect to that from the cloud, and it can interact seamlessly. There's no difference. So that's one type of hybrid environment. So, while the impetus for cloud computing initially was to offload data centers to share and lease resources, we quickly learned that the cloud concept was useful in an enclave, in other words, a subset. And so, this common host running commodity hardware could host these applications locally while reducing the bandwidth demands because if an analysis has happened locally, then I don't have to send it back to some central processor to be analyzed and then return a message back to me. I can just do it right there, so now I've reduced the bandwidth, which is at a premium in any space, but especially in the tactical space.
Dan McCormack: So, edge nodes are essentially mini clouds that can operate disconnected and download updates whenever connectivity is reestablished. So they can run on their own, but when they're able to, they can kick back and if there are software updates, data updates or if there is software or data that wants to get sent back, that can happen. And so edge nodes make cloud computing at the edge possible. So these are small, lightweight, low-power, portable devices of different sizes, and of course, there's a whole portfolio, but that's what an edge device is.
Shaunté Newby: Kind of like our mobile devices?
Dan McCormack: Exactly. Exactly, that's right.
John George: It's like your mobile device except disconnected from the network and then use it, right? Because it's for when you're disconnected. If you're a firing battery, you have to move quickly and constantly. You cannot stay in the same location, and you have to expect there's going to be periods of dysconnectivity, and you have to be able to operate in that and still deliver fires, still know where you are, still have the right information at your fingertips and then reconnect when you're able to and get the latest pushback from the cloud.
Shaunté Newby: So, are there other areas that E2C, that's Edge to Cloud, that can be applied for modernization purposes?
Dan McCormack: We're using the fires use case because again, with LRPF or Long-Range Precision Fires, being the Army's number one priority, there was some real energy there to make this work, but it is not constrained at all. And so, we've built several other mission threads, so these are basically test cases or use cases, including a Biometric Checkpoint Mission, a Counter Unmanned Aircraft Engagement System, a Sensor Data Fusion System for Targeting, Data Exchange for Predictive and Logistics and deployment of other C2 applications. So C2 is command and controls. So, I mentioned AFATDS, each of these use cases demonstrated the utility flexibility and advantages of this cloud deployment providing a common baseline for continuous enhancement now into the future.
Shaunté Newby: The applications for this type of modernization are plentiful. Digital modernization in general, outside of the military environment, is something that Leidos has a lot of experience in. We did a deep dive into this, specifically when it comes to the cloud, a few episodes back in our conversation with David Chou. If you're interested in learning more about how the cloud enhances security and improves user experience, you should check that episode out after we're done here. But one of the concerns with modernization is keeping up with the speed of innovation. It often seems that just when you figured out new software or a piece of equipment, the next upgrade is already waiting for you. This is a challenge that Leidos is always working on, and the result is building that never-ending ladder mindset right into the modernization approach.
Dan McCormack: The first assumption is, is that software is never done. All software is subject to upgrades, fixes, adaptations, enhancements. Really the question is, how frequently can you issue and deploy those changes? So how frequently can you issue and deploy those changes? So the first reality is monolithic or large applications are very hard to upgrade because every change has enormous ripple effects, which requires a lot of downstream testing and potentially has other impacts, and that has a cost. So, the other kind of fundamental assumption here is that if change is managed as an exception, only the exceptional things get changed. But we've just assumed that software is constantly changing, so we have to treat everything as if it's a constant engine of change. So, this constancy means a different approach. So, for example, in contracting terms, if the government could issue indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts to vendors for something called Sprint as a service. Instead of writing requirements and saying, build me this thing, it could say I need a team of software engineers or developers that can build me things as they become necessary, and so that would be a service almost like a lease of a car or a lease of anything.
Dan McCormack: And so that's considered Sprint as a service. So that can be budgeted, and really the only constraint is how much change over time? So, if you want a lot of change in a short time, it's a different budget than very few changes over a long time, but those are both predictable. So, for example, if you have that IDIQ contract and you left that to a Sprint team as a service, you could actually, let's say, the same effort to two or three vendors, select the best one, and then that one goes and follows that through its life cycle. So those people know that microservice or service as well as anyone and they live along with that and see it through its full life cycle. But because the size of these service is so small, the government could afford to have multiple vendors competing against each other and so that would drive down costs, that would increase speed, that would increase proficiency and really get the best products of the warfighters quickly as possible. We really recognize change as the norm and not the exception. It just is.
Dan McCormack: And so, Cloud computing, microservices and continuous modernization provide a framework for this continuous digital change. So, we leverage DevSecOps and continuous integration and continuous delivery, but those are not ends in themselves, those are techniques. What we are talking about is how do we, from end to end, from concept, feedback, idea, need, all the way out to pushing it out to the soldier at the point of need in as little as time as possible, to the greatest capability as possible. That's our focus and that's what we're providing with this approach.
Shaunté Newby: So, one question for you, John. From an industry partner standpoint, based on what you've seen so far, is this concept actually going to deliver?
John George: It's critical, actually, from an industry perspective, the technology is there, with the right types of contract mechanisms that Dan just talked about, Leidos in particular is leaning forward to be able to deliver and having the right continual interaction between the Army and industry and what's happening with the experimentation at Project Convergence, getting soldiers out in the dirt together with technology experts and better understanding what's at the realm of possibility and then adjust requirements and go after these new capabilities that we can deliver those. And so really, from an industry perspective, absolutely, and I have to add from a national security perspective, we have to deliver this. You think about great power competition, we can no longer afford the inefficiencies of what might be referred to stove pipe solutions and the services and a stove pipe domain approach with the platforms there. This has to be multi-domain. The nation needs the Department of Defense really to fully commit to this new paradigm and horizontally integrate across the services so that we can share data, seize any advantage that that synergy can provide.
John George: We're seeing tangible progress. As Dan described, we've made progress in the capabilities that we're providing. Even beyond Project Convergence, Leidos is now on board with ABMS Digital Infrastructure Consortium with the Air Force, our team is working with the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and other partners to establish the digital framework for these integrated capabilities. And all of these together across the department, they're going to help the Joint Force realize this vision of JADC2 and the concept of future warfare to be successful against any future adversaries.
Shaunté Newby: Again, that was John George, Vice President and Army Senior Account Executive, and Dan McCormack, Program Manager of C4ISR Solutions. If you want to learn more, check out leidos.com/defense. Thanks again for joining this episode of MindSET, a podcast by Leidos. If you like this and want to learn even more about the incredible tech sector work going on to push humanity forward, make sure you subscribe to the show. New episodes will be live every two weeks. Also, feel free to rate and review. We're always excited to hear your thoughts on the show. My name is Shaunté Newby. I'll talk to you next time.