Current conflict and history tell us that warfare is multi-domain in nature and there is no sign this will stop being the case. The complexity and breadth of the battlespace with more involvement of space and cyber domains, the massive increase of data, and the growing importance and complexity of influencing people’s perceptions all point to a multi-domain future. Making the domains work better together, whether they are Cyber and electromagnetic (CEMA), Space, Air, Land, or Sea is a strategic imperative for many nations and reflecting this, the overarching theme for DSEI 2023 was ‘Achieving an Integrated Force’. This multi-domain integration (MDI) means that all aspects of defence work together to achieve a common goal. It goes beyond the military, and requires effective integration of all domains, across defence and industry partners, academia, wider government and allies.
Inevitably, to achieve timely and effective MDI does rely heavily on weapons, platforms and wider information systems to link and be technically interoperable. This is a very significant challenge with different system vendors and many legacy systems, but it also requires effective interoperability and understanding between people. For individuals and teams, for example between pilots and ground forces, MDI requires mutual understanding and collaborative working so that effects can be brought to bear in a timely and effective fashion. Humans are very adaptable and warfare is inherently unpredictable but for individuals and teams being able to practise and train for a range of scenarios ahead of operations is critical. It is better such training is regularly conducted together before an actual mission, rather than for the first time facing the enemy.
A Fragmented Training Environment?
To train for multi-domain operations requires a similarly integrated training environment, otherwise training may not be representative. And because the nature of operations may not be known in advance, mission preparation requires a rapidly reconfigurable training environment, ideally networked and distributed as travelling may be too time consuming or not even practicable. Creating a sufficiently representative multi-domain training environment at pace is challenging. The training ecosystem of people, simulators, buildings, computers and so forth from which the training environment is created is diverse and complex with many legacy systems and practices and no single supporting digital infrastructure.
A Defence Digital Platform for Training
If defence is to best prepare its people for multi-domain operations and achieve an “integrated force” it needs to build towards a vision of the future where its training ecosystem too is integrated. Wider (UK) defence is already moving towards a single “Digital Backbone”, cloud computing and valuing data as a strategic asset and its training ecosystem could too. Metaverse technologies and approaches also offer a compelling vision of how training could be more immersive and more accessible and responsive. A military metaverse that exploits the convergence of technologies such as XR, AI, computing, networking and data, and brings the physical and digital worlds together. A trend we are seeing already from 2D, to 3D digital interaction and immersion. As proto-metaverses, gaming already provides such a vision of easy-to-access immersive worlds where other players can be discovered and teamed up with. They also are increasingly served by various multimedia channels beyond the game so that whether it is text, audio, or video players can communicate in and out of the game and watch from afar. It would seem to be just the kind of digital skills that are of value to defence as operations too are impacted by the multi-domain digital world.
Beyond Training – Integrated Defence?
A persistent network of distributed simulations built on high performance computing and networking and linked to the latest data, such as operational, geographic and equipment digital twins, would ensure that training is representative of the actual world and reach all that can benefit. Such an infrastructure could have value beyond training. Future scenarios could be run and analysed to support research and as future capabilities options are explored and decisions are made it could help to de-risk acquisition. Conducting as much activity as possible in a collaborative digital simulated world and compressing the acquisition cycle prior to cutting any metal. Letting us see and touch the acquisition cycle. Later on, as capabilities are upgraded, the latest digital twin can automatically update the training simulators and operational systems. It goes beyond military equipment and platforms, however. The military metaverse of persistent distributed networked simulation will bring people together, connecting them in an aligned, coherent, integrated enterprise. It will harness the collective problem-solving abilities of human beings across defence, whether they are research teams, acquisition teams, manufacturing teams, support teams, training teams, or warfighting teams.
The Integrated Force: A Vision for the Future
The DSEI 2023 message for its attendees was that the future of defence lies in agility, technological advancement, and integration, served by a defence enterprise that is agile, adapting and innovating as situations demand. It will be people that make this future happen, and it will also be digital technology. Whether it is called a military metaverse or networked simulation we are seeing that interactive gaming, command and control, and ultimately future operations of information-savvy military forces are converging. At their core is the same information technology, a common digital infrastructure for all defence activities.