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Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) role in Defense, Security, and Disaster Management

Virtual Reality (VR) creates a digital environment that replaces the user’s real-world environment. It is more about what users feel or experience in that world than how they connect with it. Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digitally-created content into the user’s real-world environment for instance, projecting sales and inventory data onto products on store shelves. Mixed reality (MR) is a blend of VR and AR creating an environment in which digital and physical objects can interact. For example, MR will allow marketers to put virtual products in consumers’ hands and gauge their responses.



Augmented / Mixed reality,  blends elements of a virtual world with the real world, so it is more about how the user interacts with those various elements and the components of the real world. In recent times, VR and AR are coming together to impact business and enterprise together. It is reported that 500 million VR headsets are expected to be sold by 2025.


Advent of 5G and high speed data communications have become key drivers for adoption of VR/ AR. Growing demand for VR gear among smartphone users, advent of entry-level VR headsets in the market and marketing push by smartphone manufacturers have boosted the VR market across the globe.  Most recently, advances in head-mounted displays (HMDs) for both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have made dramatic improvements in the devices’ efficacy and affordability.


Furthermore, virtual reality is well-suited for the gaming, training and simulation sectors, while augmented reality is better positioned in the commercial, industrial, educational and medical sectors.


Although VR has been used extensively in the entertainment industry, it has a broad array of potential defense and security applications that include law-enforcement training, empathy training, military situation awareness, health treatment, data analysis, counterterrorism,  and more. VR is not only entertaining people; it is ultimately helping save lives.


China’s thrust on AR/VR

Chinese president Xi Jinping has expressed significant appreciation for the value of VR, noting that “new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality are developing by leaps and bounds” and that “the combination of the virtual economy and the real economy will bring revolutionary changes to our way of work and way of life.”


Furthermore, China has released policy guidelines specifically for VR. Second, China, which already has a large domestic market, has stoked interest in the technology by creating over 3,000 VR arcades across the country, and which could help drive demand for more serious applications, as users become acclimated to VR hardware. The advantage tied to the size of the domestic market is compounded by China’s ability to achieve widespread distribution for relatively low prices. Third, China has an effective system for organizing its industrial base and establishing supply chains.


China has developed what it is calling “VR Towns,” also known as “VR Cities.” So far two cities have been chosen as VR Towns with both in the early stages of development. Each VR town will employ a multitude of VR applications in a variety of fields such as the medical, education, business, design, and entertainment fields. Also, the town will have industrial parks that help connect different points of the VR supply chain.


Effectively organizing supply chains for emerging technology is especially important, which became evident during the boom of the commercial drone industry. Part of this dominance is due to the construction of industrial parks that collocate multiple components of the supply chain, particularly parts that would otherwise come from distant and disparate locations. As a result, a drone prototype that takes two weeks to make in the United States can be produced in a single day in Shenzhen, the center of China’s attempt to organize technology supply chains. In turn, this consolidated process provides a 50 percent to 60 percent cost advantage when it comes to manufacturing components. This is a lethal combination for competitors, and the VR Towns China is setting up could serve the same purpose, write William Shumate Tim Marler in National Interest.



VR/AR security applications

Since virtual reality is designed to provide a wearable experience for end-users, it can be used to simulate catastrophic disasters in industrial sectors without putting users in physical danger, destroying company or industrial property, or harming the physical environment. It could make an excellent threat modeling tool for physical threats.


To face and go through such situations firefighters and other disaster management people need to have rigorous live training. The risk level of any situation can be examined while training in virtual environments. VR is utilized to create a virtual environment that allows the trainee to experience and try things in real-world situations. Thus, VR is helpful in improving the skills set for an exceptionally complex situation and helps them to to make split-second decisions and tackle live situations saving many lives. Quick response teams can minimize casualties at the incident place.


Augmented reality enables a level of visualization and information sharing that can accelerate the synthesis of information. In addition, AR opens up new opportunities to gamify training and education programs. By breaking down discrete but common tasks and rewarding fast responses, we can reduce complexity and accelerate learning.


Already used to train employees in the manufacturing and medical industries, AR systems are a natural fit for cybersecurity training. AR systems are used by technicians who assemble complex wiring harnesses in the construction of jet aircraft. The smart glasses keep instructions right in the workers’ field of view. It can even be used to train astronauts to work on the International Space Station.


By using AR, we can enhance the effectiveness of our security establishment by creating a miniature model of individual floors and observing the real-time developments of all floors using AR devices in SOC (Security Operations Center). This can help us ascertain the precise location of an incident without any scope of error. We can, moreover, equip the on-ground security personnel with smart glasses to make them aware of the actual developments instead of relaying verbal information to them.


The rise of VR and AR to fight crime follows years of worldwide research by forensic scientists, many of whom have developed prototype systems for reconstructed crime scenes. The Netherlands has been a hive of activity in this arena with computer scientists, systems engineers, and police professionals collaborating on a host of projects.


Disaster Management

VR/AR technologies can  aid in both real-time disaster management activities as well as in training. Disaster Management is a complex process, usually dealing with a large amount of uncertain, incomplete and vague information, which normally requires coordination and collaboration among a variety of actors.


Virtual reality is the breakthrough in handling situations like natural disasters. In the industrial sector, for example, virtual reality might be used to simulate a nuclear reactor meltdown, a large fire in a high-rise office building, a coal mine collapse or a major infrastructure failure. Similarly, in the civil sector, it can be applied to replicate a citywide blackout, emergency response in disaster zones, and earthquake and aftershock damage.


THEMIS (disTributed Holistic Emergency Management Intelligent System) is designed as an intelligent system aimed at supporting real time disaster management activities of decision-makers in command posts, and responders in the field. It gathers information from multiple sources (e.g., users, sensors, crowdsourcing), and provides situational awareness based on a georeferenced common picture which is shared among system users


Microsoft has released a video showing how the company is tapping into the virtual world to better prepare people for floods, earthquakes and other calamities. The video shows how Microsoft Research is constructing whole buildings in virtual reality, so that people can learn how to respond to disasters within specific situations. Microsoft have used a robot with laser range sensors and a 4k camera to re-create the interiors of real-life buildings, before creating disaster situations using the objects. The end result is a real-life simulation that could be used by disaster-recovery agencies as preparedness training, without risking safety.


Effective training is a cornerstone of disaster preparedness efforts worldwide. The quality, consistency and frequency of disaster training are acknowledged to notably impact self-perceived disaster readiness of potential responders. While all are long-established and instructionally valid approaches, classroom-based instructive teaching and web-based presentation material lack the realism offered by drills and exercises. At the same time, real-life drills and tabletop exercise programs are often inconsistent because of varying levels of participation or the extent of time and resources required for design, execution and review.


VR-based disaster training offers a practical alternative that incorporates realism at a fraction of the cost of real-life exercises when considering the number of potential learners, range of applications and repeat scenario use.11 Accordingly, fundamental training scenarios can be practiced more frequently under different varying conditions to either challenge responders or to establish better understanding of factors that may lead to alternate outcomes.


The advent of technologically-based approaches to disaster preparedness through virtual reality (VR) environments appears promising in its ability to bridge the gaps of other commonly-held established training formats. Some government agencies have adopted VR-based applications to host meetings and a number of academic institutions and organizations have piloted VR-based training to assess program utility and effectiveness.



AR/VR in Defense

AR has lately emerged as the most transformative technology for surveillance and security functions after AI and Video Analytics. There are also many possible use cases for virtual reality in the Defence and Security sector. One of the advantages of VR training in the military is that it offers the functionality to immerse users in a virtual yet safe world. This feature is what makes it so relevant in the defence sector, as it offers militaries and defense contractors a way to gain invaluable experience of dealing with high-stress, life-threatening environments from the safety of a training room.


Virtual reality is used by army members to create a simulation that helps them create a virtual battleground. They try out their tactics and attacks on the simulation to see how they work. Using the virtual mode, army men get a way to gain valuable experience of dangerous or life-threatening environments at less cost.


AR is often used to solve challenges or for training purposes. AR is effective for warfare simulations, military sand tables, battlefield visualizations, and other applications that require a realistic representation of defense activities. Besides, augmented reality has three major applications namely Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR), helmet-mounted AR display, and Synthetic Training Environment (STE) in warfare.


AR/VR for military training

VR and AR can be used in the Army for Firearm Training, Electronic Warfare training, Sniper Training, Armoured Vehicle Simulator, vehicle Repair and Maintenance in the Battlefield. Air Force is utilizing for Flight Simulation, Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Training, and Medical Training.  Navy is utilizing for Virtual Ship Bridge, Virtual Submarine Simulator.


Army Times has reported that the US Army Soldiers and Marines could be wearing ruggedized AR headsets in the field by 2021. The US military even carried out trial operations with the help of augmented reality technology even before signing the deal. The US military has also constructed a massive virtual reality platform to help train infantry soldiers in realistic battlefields filled with millions of artificial intelligence agents.


China has been at the forefront of adopting disruptive technologies for a long time now. As a sequel of that, the country has started training its military personnel with virtual  reality technology to increase their combat capabilities. Recently, a logistics support unit affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Northern Theater Command Navy carried out a wartime fuel support drill in a simulation room.


The military sector requires scalable training that can train large number for troops or personnel at the same time . Hence, it is crucial to build capacity for practical training at that scale, which is what VR and AR offers. Besides, these platforms ensure consistency of training across thousands of personnel, while also allowing for effective monitoring and evaluation of individual performance.


Ensuring security within premises becomes increasingly difficult and complicated with multiple devices deployed for every secured area. An operator is required to remember the location of each and every device and correlate it with the corresponding video feed on the screen. This task becomes considerably challenging when we increase the scale of operations, making it prone to human errors as well as omissions and opening a point of vulnerability in the security of the perimeter.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic if not all, most physical training exercises have been put on hold because of the obvious restrictions on movement. VR and AR training platforms, naturally, offer the most logical and practical solution for this pain point.


Training in VR and AR brings down the cost of training drastically because the replicas of weapons or vehicles that are simulated in a virtual training application cost way less than actual inventory. For instance, training flights for fighter pilots are more expensive than a VR flight simulator or actual weapons are more costly to train than a simulated weapon training simulator


It may be used to simulate terrorist attacks on U.S. or foreign soil, train special forces for overseas missions where the precise physical layouts of buildings are other structures may be unknown, conduct urban warfare exercises and test advanced aircraft.


Sniper Training

Sniper operations require the soldiers or marksmen to have highly specialised skills like stalking, observation, map reading, camouflaging and concealment, as well as precision marksmanship under various operational conditions. The VR Training system allows trainees to immerse themselves in a virtual battlefield and shoot thousands of rounds in a completely safe environment , while learning these core skills. Trainees can be immersed in a wide range of scenarios that are normally impractical to simulate due to cost or manpower.


Electronic Warfare training:

The warfare landscape is changing faster than ever before. Wars are now being fought and won, not only on the physical battlefield but also across complex digital landscape spanning information manoeuvre and electronic, cyber and space warfare. Radar and communications operators must be able to rapidly recognize and react to the latest electronic attack methods in order to keep pace with growing threats. The VR training solution for Electronic warfare simulates the latest electronic warfare (EW) threats to train operators to identify and quickly respond to them.


New Threats by AR/VR

While these advanced capabilities of augmented and virtual reality have the potential to revolutionize many industries in positive ways, they also introduce new threats.  VR/AR systems can entail basic physical safety concerns. Users may be prone to accidents during or after use.  AR use in real-world environments, such as in medicine and industry, creates opportunities for malicious attackers to impact life and safety.


The mobile apps designed for integration with augmented reality are susceptible to bad coding practices, insufficient security controls, bad updates, zero-day exploits and malware, just like any other type of software. An adversary capable of compromising the application program interface (API) that connects augmented reality software to an automobile’s heads-up display could remotely crash the car. A threat actor could also breach augmented reality glasses to access what amounts to a livestream of personal data without the wearer’s knowledge.


Researchers at the University of New Haven, for example, have demonstrated a vulnerability that let an attacker trick a VR user into crashing into a wall. In another case, a University of California, Davis, researcher showed that VR tracking sensors can be compromised to allow attackers to peek into the user’s physical space.


The usefulness to enhance training can also be exploited by hackers. We’ve seen malicious hackers adopt the tools of cybersecurity professionals in the past. Will hackers learn how to be better criminals with AR? Will gamified AR allow criminals to learn faster?


VR/AR systems should implement encryption for network connects for data security, which is standard practice in more traditional communication tools such as instant messaging apps.




References and Resources also include:


Cite This Article

International Defense Security & Technology (March 29, 2023) Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) role in Defense, Security, and Disaster Management. Retrieved from
"Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) role in Defense, Security, and Disaster Management." International Defense Security & Technology - March 29, 2023,
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"Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) role in Defense, Security, and Disaster Management." International Defense Security & Technology - Accessed March 29, 2023.
"Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) role in Defense, Security, and Disaster Management." International Defense Security & Technology [Online]. Available: [Accessed: March 29, 2023]

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