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US Military Making a Move into the Metaverse

They say wars are won in the generals' tents—in the future, they could be won in metaverse meeting rooms

Photo by Jimi Malmberg / Unsplash

The use of Mixed Reality wearables—AR and VR—by the military isn’t a new thing. They’ve long used VR headset for training, throwing their soldiers into realistic military simulations for practicing exercises, tactics and strategies. Now, the military have upgraded their tech to make use of AI-controlled virtual worlds, meaning more realistic simulations for improved troop training.

It started with SIMNET

As early as the mid 80s, the US military was using simulation technology and virtual worlds for information overlays and tactical training. SIMNET was a real time, distributed simulation for combat scenarios usable by multiple individuals that simulated military exercise for a squad of soldiers, so that they could run through a mission and play it back to train and practice.

After this, the Pentagon began development of a video-game inspired to attract people to join the military.  America’s Army, developed in 2001 and released in 2002, was a franchise of first-person shooter games that simulated warfare from the perspective of the US military.

So the US is no novice to virtual worlds, and you better believe they’re prepared for the metaverse. On May 10th this year, two pilots made use of AR wearables to practice refueling a fighter jet in real time. These connected the pilots to a system that allowed them to refuel a virtual aircraft in mid-air, in what’s being called a “proto-metaverse” experiment. While the aircraft was virtual, the flight was real.

The Future of Warfare Uses the Metaverse

SIMNET is now being upgraded for an AI-controlled virtual world that will simulate high-fidelity military exercises. Overall, the metaverse, through Mixed Reality, will enable a more realistic way for military experts and defense contractors to test armaments and ballistics, without compromising the health and safety of those testing it.

It will also enable these groups to experiment with new military strategies and operations—exactly what SIMNET’s usurper ATARS attempts to offer. Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System—ATARS for short—is being used to train fighter pilots in the midst of an intel race.

What about the coordination aspect? They say wars are won in the general’s tents—in the future, they might be won in metaverse meeting rooms. VR and virtual world “metaverses” could mean that generals are even further removed from military operations, able to discuss strategies and ongoing conflicts in virtual world meeting rooms that can use all the flash of modern technology—moving pieces on map, or relaying real data into a video infographic presented holographically. This would allow more realistic demonstrations and could improve the efficiency of coordination militarized efforts, powered by the metaverse

Corporal Concerns

While virtual reality will be a useful tool, conflicts are still fought in the real world.  This highlights the importance for wireless wearables, like AR goggles, that could be used on the field. These would relay tactical and medical information about allies and combatants: even the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to create an AI software that will relay advice to combatants during warfare to improve efficiency.

Like in chess, AI have also been trained to beat their human counterparts in aerial combat, and this is used for training purposes, to learn and adapt to a near-unbeatable opponent. Startup EpiSci has created a super-smart AI specifically designed to beat humans in aerial combat—it will be used to train fighter pilots to create new strategies and learn more about the complexities of air-based warfare.

Ultimately, there could be seriously dystopian concerns with the use of AR goggles and digital information overlaid across physical objects, especially when used for warfare. These could be used for propaganda purposes, and the military has to do their best to avoid a Black Mirror-esque scenario where the goggles might create a gamified experience that could lead to soldiers forgetting the reality of warfare.