China is stealing a march in the metaverse arms race

Yu Jianing, the executive director of the Metaverse Industry Committee, said the group will focus on strengthening innovation for the metaverse industry as well as promoting inter-company collaboration.

Jason Bruzdzinski, an expert in Chinese intelligence capabilities at the Mitre Corporation, noted in November 2021: “The ability to stream in data from the physical world where sensors are collecting information, fused with a synthetic world representing the cyber and information domain can provide human analysis with access to this virtual world to leverage a parallel system for decision making advantage … The Chinese have taken a page out of modern modelling and simulation science.”

Here Bruzdzinski is describing China’s very own metaverse for war.

So how is the UK fronting up to these challenges? Despite a rich history of leveraging British innovation in support of national security goals and a new cadre of defence-focused commercial software firms emerging in the UK, the defence and national security community continues to struggle to transition novel civil technologies into longer term military capabilities.

In short, unlike China, we have no version of “civil-military fusion”.

New policies, drawn up as part of the defence and security industrial strategy, were designed to address this but progress is slow. This delay is compounded by the resourcing.

The majority of the defence budget increase in 2021 is still being spent on 20th-century hardware and not on the modern software needed to counteract China’s advances.

Despite the challenges, the UK has a unique set of national building blocks – technological, scientific and academic – that could enable it to lead the Western world in building a national security metaverse to rival China.

Now is the time to take advantage of those opportunities. We must embed our own flavour of civil-military fusion across the national security community to leverage the best capabilities in the nation – and do so fast. China is weaponising the metaverse. The UK should be fighting back.

Joe Robinson is a former military officer and chief executive of British technology company Improbable Defence

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