Virtual Worlds Enlist as Military Operations Simulators

Size0-army_mil-38704-2009-05-29-160552 A few weeks ago, Pixels and Policy took a look at how virtual worlds might be helping the U.S. Army look for promising new recruits.

Today we take a look at the policy applications of a defense-themed virtual program.

The University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies has interesting ideas on the future uses of virtual worlds in combat. Find out just what the military has in store for the Metaverse.

Applying Virtual Practices to Military Operations

According to VS Subrahmanian, Director of UMD's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, virtual worlds are uniquely poised to satisfy the military's need for real-time simulations of battle plans prior to staging. An interesting article in DNA India outlines Subrahmanian's idea:

"Defense analysts can understand the repercussions of their proposed
recommendations for policy options or military actions by interacting
with a virtual world environment."

"They can propose a policy
option and walk skeptical commanders through a virtual world where the
commander can literally 'see' how things might play out," they said.

Military strategists regularly run computer simulations of potential combat situations to measure risk and detect previously overlooked opportunities for the opposition force to strike back. Virtual worlds provide the opportunity to develop photorealistic environments that appeal to the human capacity for visual thinking.

Computers are already in use for combat simulations, but nothing matches the graphical power of moving avatars through a physical, three-dimensional space. Building combat simulators in three dimensions also provides soldiers an opportunity to conduct test runs in the environment while commanders throw different crisis situations into the mix.

Expanding the Role of Virtual Worlds in Combat Planning

As Subrahmanian argues, this interactivity could mark the difference between a successful operation and a strike force pinned down due to an unnoticed corner window or an overlooked alley. A combat planner that involves soldiers as effectively as virtual worlds could pay real dividends in Afghanistan and beyond:

"Human analysts, with their real world knowledge and experience,
will be essential partners in taking us the rest of the way in building
these digital worlds and, then, in using them to predict courses of
action most likely to build peace and security in Afghanistan and

Though we've been skeptical in the past about the virtual world's ability to create soldiers from armchair commandos, the idea that soldiers would benefit from interacting with a potential combat environment before shots are fired seems commonsense.

In 2006, The Washington Post wrote on how virtual reality helped prepare soldiers for combat – virtual test-runs take the argument one step further by expanding the environment from a first-person shooter to a multi-user virtual domain. The possibilities are expandable to meet almost any combat or troop transportation situation.

Though still in the early stages, virtual combat planning promises to change how soldiers approach a combat situation – in the near future, soldiers could land in a remote town in western Afghanistan already intimately familiar with the winding backroads, tortuous alleyways and various farms that make up the community. With knowledge comes awareness, and in the military, awareness saves lives.