NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China’s People’s Liberation Army is preparing to wage high-technology warfare in the metaverse, the emerging amalgam of virtual reality, the internet and the real world, according to a report by an Air Force think tank.
The PLA views the ill-defined metaverse as a future battlefield for advanced conflict once thought to be limited to the realm of science fiction, the report by the Air Force China Aerospace Studies Institute states.
The official military newspaper PLA Daily stated in a report last month that the metaverse represents the “new heights of future cognitive warfare.” China defines cognitive warfare as the blending of unmanned systems with artificial intelligence to produce new fighting capabilities.
The concept includes the use of drone swarms, electronic warfare, hypersonic missiles, shape-shifting and self-healing platforms, biomaterial-infused “invisibility” cloaks, and battlefield-print 3D payloads and parts.
Such futuristic weapons will be capable of recognizing, reacting and seamlessly adapting on the battlefield, rapidly conducting missions without human intervention.
The Air Force report states that the authors of the March PLA report on metaverse warfare are from the Institute of Military Political Work at the Academy of Military Sciences, the PLA’s senior-most research institute under the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, the country’s preeminent power organ.
“The metaverse provides a parallel cognitive space that digitally twins real combat scenarios, where cognitive warfare can be advanced efficiently and enhanced at a fast pace,” the PLA report said, noting the domain will be used in the future for attack and conflict.
“By attacking an adversary’s metaverse (and in cognitive war more broadly) one can ‘affect the opponent’s thinking, cognition and action decision making,’” the report said.
The PLA anticipates three types of metaverse confrontation. The first is “platform confrontation” involving hostile forces using the metaverse for cognitive attacks or defense to disrupt, delay, deter, destroy and eliminate opposing forces metaverse.
Two others are “supply chain and systems” attacks that will block key nodes and technical operation of enemy metaverses, and “indirect diversion” — impairing communications technology devices and using deception to alter the functioning of an enemy metaverse system.
“The goal is to cause the adversary confusion and misunderstanding,” the report said.
Another article in China’s state-controlled media, headlined “New Battlefield-Metaverse,” argues that the metaverse warfare will be a theater of great power-competition between the United States and China.
“In the future, China and the United States will inevitably compete in the metaverse,” the article says.
The Air Force report concludes that while the metaverse is in the early stages of development, “China is well positioned to be a leader in metaverse development with investment and backing by some of its largest tech companies, as well as the Chinese Communist Party itself.”
“Of concern is the potential conflict that may arise as the metaverse is implemented and relied upon like the internet,” the report said.
“The information technology sector is already identified as U.S. critical infrastructure and the metaverse will be part of that when it becomes operational.”
As the military comes to rely on the metaverse in its daily operations, “there will be greater risk and potential consequences to disruption or destruction of the metaverse,” the report said.
The report recommends seeking “norms” to avert conflict, and to harden the futuristic ecosystem that will become a target in a future conflict.
The report was written Josh Baughman, a CASI analyst and originally published by the Military Cyber Professionals Association.
The U.S. government’s concerns over China’s cognitive warfare develop were revealed in this space in December after the Commerce Department imposed sanctions on several Chinese technology companies for engaging in “brain control” warfare research.
The department’s Bureau of Industry and Security stated in announcing the sanctions that the companies are working on “biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end-uses and end-users, to include purported brain-control weaponry.”
Beijing’s arms to Serbia raise concerns
China’s military last weekend dispatched six Y-20 transport aircraft to Serbia, a Moscow ally, raising concerns Beijing is covertly resupplying Russia’s military as it pursues its invasion of Ukraine.
Chinese state media reported that the transports, which U.S. officials say were developed from stolen American C-17 transport technology, demonstrated “strategic transport” capabilities for the Chinese military. The six Y-20s were tracked by nongovernment aircraft spotters through Turkish airspace on Friday on the way to Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade.
The flights were an unusual show of military power projection, the official Chinese newspaper The People’s Daily reported Monday.
No details of the payload were disclosed, although online reports said the transports delivered FK-3 surface-to-air missiles, an export version of China’s HQ-22 SAM.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday the transports delivered “conventional military items to Serbia.” The arms shipment is not “targeted at any third country,” he said.
Asked if the deliveries could upset the peace in war-torn eastern Europe, Mr. Zhao said: “Did you ever care whether regional peace and stability is threatened when the U.S. sold arms to Europe and Taiwan? Why do you think it’s so when China sells some conventional military items to Serbia?”
Serbia signed a military agreement with Russia in 2016 and in 2022 purchased multiple items of military hardware from Moscow, including Pantsir air defense missiles and Kornet anti-tank missiles.
A Pentagon spokesperson had no immediate comment on the Chinese arms shipment.
Advocacy group seeks missile defense reforms
The Pentagon needs to upgrade and reform its advanced missile defense systems in the face of new enemy threats such as hypersonic missiles, according to a report by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
“The advent of Russian and Chinese hypersonic missile threats, in addition to both countries’ growing arsenals of increasingly complex ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, clearly demonstrates the importance our adversaries place on long-range strike capabilities,” the report says. “In response to these advances, the U.S. must ensure that the missile defense enterprise is properly organized, resourced and managed for success in this new and demanding threat environment.”
China and Russia are investing heavily in hypersonic missiles that can travel faster than anti-missile interceptors and are also building up large numbers of long-range missiles that could overwhelm current limited missile defenses.
Current roles and missions for missile defenses have not kept pace with the growing threats.
The MDAA report urges making missile defense a core military mission, boosting spending to close gaps in ground-based cruise missiles defenses, and finding arms to counter hypersonic missiles. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency also needs rapid acquisition authority for more efficient and rapid defense development and deployment.
Better coordination is needed among the military services and combatant commands on missile defenses, the report says.
The new Space Command should be given lead responsibility for missile defenses, currently the role of the Strategic Command.
Riki Ellison, chair of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a former pro football linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion, said he knows from his playing days that “defense wins.”
“In the real world though, this principle is even more important because our country’s defense cannot fail, ever,” Mr. Ellison said.
“Unfortunately, today’s missile defense is ill-prepared to defend against the emerging threats from China and Russia. MDAA’s recommendations on roles and responsibilities are a foundational step to ensure a highly capable and well-resourced missile defense.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.