Imagine yourself in an F-15EX dogfighting in a real-time battle 5,000 miles away as your heart races strapped into the cockpit and swerving through hostile terrain making split-second decisions about what tactic to use next all while expecting the unexpected. Thirty seconds later, you are stomping through a mine-riddled and rugged village never trodden by an American military boot, precisely identifying every nook and cranny where enemy combatants may be lurking while anticipating their movements and vantage points.
This is the kind of hyper-realistic, safely unsafe training/flight simulator that operators a decade ago could only dream about: surpassing rudimentary and burdensome technology tools for flawless interoperability, evaluation tooling, and simulation for every conceivable circumstance. This all goes down while the robotics collect intricate details and data for immediate interpretation, which is then seamlessly logged and accessible on the blockchain.
It is all part of the Web3 world we are now streaming into – so buckle up.
This marks the next evolution of the internet with the potential to ‘level up’ U.S. defense systems, including internal communications, to capabilities previously thought of as wild daydreams. This technological evolution also offers interpretive warfighting, community advantages, and smooth integration of diverse defense-related virtual worlds.
But what exactly does this gimmicky-sounding concept mean?
In basic terms, Web3 is a world wide web owned and dictated by users rather than the conglomerates. While big tech – Amazon, Google, Facebook (now Meta), to name a few – dominate the current internet landscape, controlling what content can be pushed, promoted, prohibited, and passed along, Web3 leans on decentralized blockchain technology to eliminate the intermediator and put users back in the driver’s seat.
It is also a natural progression of technological advancement. Web1 was the internet we learned in the 1990s and the early years of the eponymous Y2K, brought to life by laborious dial-up connections, open-source protocols, fixed webpages, sluggish and megabyte-heavy downloads, basic messenger and little else in the realm of real-time interactions.
The past 18 years have brought about the emergence of the Web2, igniting an epoch of multimedia and social media, dynamic interactions, advanced gaming, and the rise of Silicon Valley on our desks and inside our pockets.
But as we slip into the Web3 cosmos, it could be viewed as linking the community-directed mindset of Web1 with the modern advancements of Web2 and a whole lot more.
Regarding our most powerful institution, getting ahead of what is ahead (wrap your head around that one) could make or break the business of warfighting, enabling the defense arena to integrate different technologies into a more interconnected virtual system.
Over the past couple of years, the defense industry has dabbled in implementing blockchain technology that underpins the emerging Web3 and utilizing simulation applications – although these are generally clunkier than what experts envision for the next web wave. In May, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced it was constructing its own “metaverse,” a concept often used interchangeably with Web3 development. It includes an amalgamation of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and gaming-like animation.
The realism and complexity of Web3’s simulations and cybernetics set it apart from previous innovations.
Among the places poised to take advantage of Web3 is the newest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: the United States Space Force (USSF) which was born out of the need to recognize and preserve America’s competitive military advantages off planet.
Dr. Lisa Costa, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer of the USSF, told Forbes in April that one of the most glaring present-day challenges is, “sifting through massive amounts of data to build an accurate operating picture in real-time.”
However, one of the most imminent gains of the mesmeric Web3 technology is that it can alleviate “guardians” (soldiers in Space) from tedious staffing and paper-pushing procedures, using advanced automation to take care of the fundamentals. This had led to the ongoing development of the “SpaceVerse”, which Costa says, “uses virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, reasoning, and simulation.”
“Operating within it requires those immersive technologies. Most people are familiar with off-the-shelf VR headsets that put gamers into virtual worlds. We are doing the same thing with our digital ecosystem but for real and emerging objects, processes, and systems,” she explains. “Embracing gaming technologies has great potential to change how we view space: not as a picture on a flat monitor, but in three dimensions. This will give guardians a better feel for the environment, making it easier and faster to make decisions in immersive environments.”
This development requires strategic partnering with the private sector and technology outfits – think rocket innovators, software developers, and gaming entrepreneurs – that have long possessed an edge in this growing market and will aid in fast-tracking the procurement process.
“We may want to add that when we buy from industry vs. build ourselves, we share the cost of that capability: cyber protection, testing, and training with many other customers vs. having to maintain a capability we’ve built. In some cases, we are looking for capabilities that no one is developing yet. We are excited about partnering with organizations that will join us in building the world’s first fully digital service,” Costa told Forbes. “Our metaverse will link us with our partners. It will enable collaboration between gaming and immersive technologies and bring multiple stakeholders together to simultaneously view the same data sets to enable more rapid, data-driven decision-making across the spectrum of Space Force operations.”
Incidentally, private defense companies are also focused on collaborations with technology giants. For one, Lockheed Martin announced an alliance with Microsoft in February on 5G.MIL solutions to “rapidly advance reliable connections for U.S. Department of Defense systems capable of spanning air, land, sea, space and cyber domains.”
The two companies will test how to effectively expand and manage 5G networking technology for Joint-All Domain Operations (JADO) defense applications using Microsoft’s 5G and Microsoft Azure services for Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Base Station, essentially a military-grade ruggedized “multi-network gateway and cell tower in a box.”
Moreover, last year, the USSF also sought to stay up to par with the changing web scene by launching its own non-fungible token (NFT) termed “Armstrong Satellite NFT Launch with Space Force.” Named after the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, the token features a limited-edition digital twin NFT of the GPS III SV05 “ARMSTRONG” satellite and 3D NFTs depicting 30-plus satellites currently in orbit forming a GPS constellation around the Earth. The Armstrong Satellite will provide “accurate global positioning and navigation systems to military and civilian users.”
Computer scientists have partnered with the military sector to solve problems throughout U.S. history. For example, throughout the 70s and 80s, the DoD funded several computer wizards to establish consensus protocols to authenticate aircraft commands without relying entirely on one central authority. This approach in more recent years paved the way for the formation of the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and smart contracts, which are all foundational elements of Web3.
And as the new internet age matures, expect a slew of odd jobs to surface seeking Web3 account executives with military or intelligence backgrounds and experience.
Also, Web-3-enabled defense arenas bring yet another level of social interaction. As a War on the Rocks article points out “the military is a lifestyle choice, dictating not only careers but also aspects of social life. As a result, just like military bases provide opportunities to socialize and build communities, one would expect a defense metaverse to tap into those same needs.”
“Bases provide various social activities for servicemembers, whether they are single or part of a family — from morale, welfare, and recreation programs to healthcare and financial guidance. Many of these activities could be brought onto a metaverse in various forms, allowing servicemembers to take advantage of base benefits at their point of need, supplementing rather than replacing preexisting physical interactions,” the report states. “For instance, the Air Force Gaming community has already taken a first step towards connecting distributed airmen in a digital environment through video games, providing opportunities for leadership development, teamwork, morale building, and support for the mental health of service members, particularly those in the 18 to 30 age range who grew up as avid gamers. A military metaverse could serve as an extension to this community, bringing in other non-gaming activities and connectivity.”
The authors envision an “iterative feedback loop” across the DoD – one that requires little human effort, thus ensuring that “lessons learned from training, education, or recruitment can be exploited during test and experimentation and vice versa.”
“As more individuals have access to information across a defense metaverse, the potential exists for various activities, like experiments, to become increasingly democratized, making it easier to solicit ideas and feedback across the defense community,” the report anticipates. “Even the social facets of a defense metaverse could yield battlefield improvements by potentially aggregating information that can lend insight into factors, like morale, that could inform force design or training.”
Nevertheless, Web3 is still very much in its infancy, and it’s those getting in early who have the potential to shape and drive the direction of the rapidly advancing internet, which impacts almost every facet of life.
Defense is one area that should not lag behind.
Amidst Russia’s sudden, large-scale invasion of Ukraine, defense budgets around the globe are getting fresh boosts to their most cutting-edge initiatives. But rather than focusing solely on kinetic warfighting, leaders would be remiss to ignore the significant potential of more Web3 investments across the board.
Web3 is already here and well poised to change every aspect of our lives; but keeping Americans safe by harnessing its potential should be the defense industry’s chief focus and our public institutions’ paramount concern.