U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground hosts EDGE 23
YUMA — During intense natural environment experimentation with over 80 new technologies, the Experimental Demonstration Gateway Event (EDGE) 23 blended developmental and operational testing for what may be key elements of the future force.
The Army Futures Command (AFC) Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) held the annual demonstration at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) over the course of four weeks in April and May.
The FVL CFT is aggressively testing most every facet of the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) and FVL, as well as advancing knowledge on electronic warfare. Unmanned aircraft, launched effects and all manner of ancillary technologies to expand communications capabilities and Soldier survivability were all being tested simultaneously here during the demonstration, which included participation from 32 inter-service organizations, 10 international partners and multiple private industry companies.
“It’s really about getting after transformational capabilities and building the integrated deterrence capability that supports our national defense strategy,” said Col. Jason Fryman, Chief of Staff for FVL CFT. “These are not completed programs—these are mature-enough technologies for us to test out in the natural environment. It’s to try to find what makes the most sense that is suited to the future concepts we are looking at and the way we need those technologies to mature and advance into programs of record.”
Over multiple use cases involving Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and international participants, more than 600 fire missions were conducted, roughly half of which were fully digital. The simulated air assaults involved manned and unmanned aircraft and so-called launched effects from the air and ground.
“What we did with the use cases was have a multinational air assault operation sending troops into ‘territory’ previously held by the enemy,” said Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, FVL CFT Director, in remarks at a media roundtable with multiple national and international media representatives held at YPG at the conclusion of the demonstration. “The payloads and some of the advanced tactics were where I really saw innovation. I am very pleased with the pace of launched effects.”
The planning for the event took more than six months and involved at least some participation from more than 500 YPG personnel.
“YPG is very dynamic: We embrace change, and our culture is not to say no, but to get to a yes,” said Justin Croutch, YPG’s FVL CFT integrator. “We initiated conversations months and months ago, but we knew that the initial concept would evolve. We want to make sure we provide the right support needed and posture everyone for success.”
The proving ground’s clear, stable air and extremely dry climate, combined with an ability to control a large swath of the radio frequency spectrum, makes it a desired location for the type of testing EDGE was interested in: counter-unmanned aircraft solutions, extending network access and flying autonomous and semi-autonomous aircraft. YPG’s wealth of other infrastructure meant for other sectors of the post’s test mission were utilized to support the aviation evaluations: YPG is home to things like technical and tactical targets, as well as generator and combined maintenance shops. YPG’s deep institutional knowledge allowed the extremely complex test scenarios that involved dozens of aircraft conducting simulated operational missions and even live fires. To accommodate all of this activity safely, YPG’s personnel had to identify flight routes and boxes in advance and ensure that during execution appropriate personnel were on the ground in landing zones where mock assaults took place. As they were in progress, test personnel were able to monitor the activity in real time.
“YPG has a pretty rigorous and efficient safety process in place,” said Croutch. “Every technology out here was looked at with respect to safety as far as what hazards are associated with those technologies. Working with the FVL team, we were able to choreograph where in time and space things would happen to avoid any significant conflict.”
Though the event saw such firsts as autonomous landings and resupply and first-ever autonomous landings in a desert environment of a Bell 412 airframe brought to the event by Canada, the principals were particularly impressed with advances that were made in advancing the reach and range of interconnected architectures.
“Our theater linkage with Northern EDGE at Fort Wainwright 4,000 kilometers away really replicated our theater geometry,” said Rugen. “My focus is on getting that information quickly to the tactical edge.”
The FVL CFT’s top leadership were pleased with the support they received by upwards of 300 range personnel from YPG.
“YPG is a literal crown jewel that can replicate a battlefield very, very well,” said Rugen. “The land, air and spectrum that the facility offers is undeniably indispensable to our success. The team’s professionalism is outstanding, and we will be back to Yuma.”
“At this point, as our third major event in three years, I don’t think we saw anything that we wouldn’t have expected,” said Croutch. “There was certainly a lot going on in a very concise, tight window, but the operations were pretty typical for what YPG does.”