Metaverse is a vision of a highly immersive and interactive shared world inhabited by avatars of real people that will enable billions of people to work, play, collaborate and socialize in entirely new ways. As a concept, the Metaverse is a persistent, online, 3D universe that combines multiple virtual spaces. It will be driven by real-time, globally interconnected virtual- and augmented-reality environments and digital experiences that will make you feel that you’re really there, and feel like other people are really there with you, too. One can think of it as a future iteration of the internet.
Extended reality is a term which represents a blend of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Sometimes the acronym ‘XR’ is used in its place. The technology is intended to combine or mirror the physical world with a “digital twin world” that is able to interact with each other. The fields of virtual reality and augmented reality are rapidly growing and being applied in a wide range of ways, entertainment, marketing, real estate, training, and remote work. The metaverse can be thought of as a convergence of the XR technology with the addition of internet connectivity.
The metaverse, a space in which the physical and digital worlds interplay to augment our understanding and experience of the real world, will, in the near future, have a very real influence on civilian life and the ways we communicate, learn, socialise and structure our economies. The military will need to shift its thinking to align with the advancements that Web 3.0 is bringing.
A military metaverse will challenge how defence operates – for example, how it manages information, how it interacts with its personnel, how it thinks about operating environments and how it plans for the future.
Education: Professional military education is in the midst of a radical overhaul. Since the 2018 National Defense Strategy publicly pointed to what it termed a state of “stagnation,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have sought to fundamentally reshape the way the services prepare, train, and educate future leaders. Education opportunities are no longer meant to be episodic activities that unfold solely at brick-and-mortar professional military education institutions, but continuous and rich activities that take place throughout a warfighter’s career — they are “portable” and available at their point of need.
In some ways this is the vision of the Department of Defense’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, which seeks to provide high-quality distributed and interconnected virtual learning opportunities that are tailored to a person’s ability, anywhere and at any time. A defense metaverse could build on this digital education ecosystem but it would be far more immersive, providing opportunities to draw on some of the mixed-reality advancements in education that are already taking place in the civilian and military worlds.
Training and simulation: The defence industry has been using virtual reality for decades. Usually, it’s in small virtual environments designed for a specific purpose (like training someone to operate a plane, tank or submarine). But although these simulations have outpaced developments in many other sectors, they’re neither integrated nor immersive.
In Augmented Reality, the heads-up displays (HUD) of military aircraft may be the most obvious example in the defence space. HUDs superimpose information, like speed, altitude and angle of movement on a clear panel in front of the pilot. Modern helmets used in military fighter aircraft take it further.
For example, the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) of the F35 does away with the more common HUD, displaying target data, geometry and video feeds taken from sensors on the aircraft. Instead of the HUD mounted atop the dashboard of earlier fighters, the HMDS puts flight and combat information on the helmet visor, allowing the pilot to see it no matter which way they are facing. Infrared and night vision imagery from the Distributed Aperture System can be displayed directly on the HMDS and enables the pilot to “see through” the aircraft. The HMDS allows an F-35 pilot to fire missiles at targets even when the nose of the aircraft is pointing elsewhere by cuing missile seekers at high angles off-boresight.
The metaverse could take these simulations to the next level. It could empower organisations to create a highly realistic virtual world that would better prepare personnel for challenging scenarios. Metaverse technology offers the potential of more realistic individual or collective training which is also more accessible (allowing personnel to train remotely, from wherever they are and thus adding more participants). Training could also be more realistic and varied (for example, presenting more scenarios, environments and assets).
Harnessing the metaverse could also help break down the legacy siloes between land, air, sea, space and cyber defence. This could strengthen national security like never before. And by ensuring seamless interoperability, the metaverse help organisations collaborate more effectively with their allies.
Testing Facilities. This is one of the biggest issues facing us today. There are very limited and controlled facilities for test and evaluation (T&E). The T&E space is a heavy user of simulated environments for testing; such testing is usually cheaper and logistically easier than physical testing. We can devise the concept of ‘digital twin’ – a detailed synthetic duplicate of a real-world component or system.
Experimentation & Validation of Operational Concepts: In the absence of combat, experimentation allows warfighters and decision-makers to transcend their current realities and ideally imagine new concepts of operations or force structures. Rich experimentation ecosystem would allow findings from unstructured wargames to flow more easily into rigid wargames, modeling and simulation tools, and experiments — whether live or via a synthetic environment.
The metaverse could also be used as a virtual ecosystem to validate tactical and strategic concepts. Traditional, physical resource-constrained military exercises tend to follow specific scenarios and rules with a defined aim, but the open possibilities of the metaverse’s synthetic environments provide the option for unstructured wargaming, which is far more representative.
Such open-ended wargaming offers the chance for real experimentation- driven by advances in data capture, storage and analysis. This could yield data which could be later drawn upon for more formal wargames or capability testing.
Command and control: Augmented Reality systems could be a better way for personnel to manage the vast amount of information available to them, and visualise the battlespace.
The metaverse can help commanders make the right decisions at the right time and reduce operational risk. How? By simulating and assessing all possible scenarios.
Say, for instance, a defence organisation is due to receive a new kind of plane in 18 months. Ahead of delivery, it could use the metaverse to simulate the impact on its broader defence capabilities. Similarly, if the organisation suspects an adversary has a new weapon, it could determine the likely impacts and then mitigate them. When planning an operation, the organisation could simulate hundreds of scenarios extremely quickly to predict outcomes and decide on the best course of action.
Beyond this, defence organisations could use the power of the metaverse in high-risk situations to better integrate intelligence from multiple sources. The aim? To ensure each commanding officer has highly personalised insights at their fingertips every time they make a decision.
Acquisitions One digital engineering approach in particular, model-based systems engineering, has helped the department to increase the speed of design and development of major weapons systems. For example, the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent megaproject is employing model-based system engineering to rapidly evaluate billions of scenarios, helping acquisition professionals to determine the precise design and placement of munitions in nuclear silos as they work to replace the land-based leg of America’s nuclear triad.
The program offers a powerful success story for digital engineering and has now become the standard practice on all large Air Force programs. Yet, these digital versions of complex weapons systems stop short of interacting with each other. They also are rarely integrated into simulations that replicate the complexity of future competition and conflict. A defense metaverse offers the possibility of connecting virtual environments for acquisitions with those used for experimentation or training, allowing acquisitions professionals to quickly test or assess their designs in a virtual world that mimics the future operating environment — all while providing a modicum of operational security that the live environment may not afford. This should support further design and security improvements, while shortening iteration cycles of requirements development, architecture designs, and testing.
Procurement and supply chains.:
The metaverse also offers great potential to procurement and supply chain operations in defence. A few examples? It could be used to help ensure security of supply through holistic scenario planning. It could help organisations trial and select equipment. Or it could help them optimise equipment allocation.
Attracting and retaining talent: Defence organizations worldwide have real concerns about their talent pipelines. That’s no surprise, as recruitment and retention of in-demand skills has become increasingly challenging. They should innovate to appeal to recruits in new, meaningful ways. The metaverse could provide an exciting pathway. It allows for hyper-personalization of recruitment to drive engagement.
Imagine being able to give a potential recruit a taste of what military life is really like. Compelling experiences could help attract potential recruits. This could, be similar to Accenture’s “Nth floor” virtual campus. It provides employee onboarding, learning and teamwork through an immersive experience.
It’s clear that the platform technologies and applications that are underpinning online gaming and the metaverse are the very same that will usher in the next level of military superiority, driving innovation at a pace that will meet the needs of rapidly changing global conditions.
There is a nexus between the worlds of defence and the metaverse because future generations will already be familiar with these platforms and the troops of tomorrow will expect to be trained in multi-layered and multi-disciplinary single synthetic environments.
For example, the metaverse could be a realistic, immersive and persistent environment where engagements and actions have real, enduring effects on the real world – a new kind of interconnectivity. This could drive new ways of operating, and break through stovepipes across defence domains. There are significant opportunities for new ways of thinking and working.