March 25, 2021

All About Eve: What Virtual Forever Wars Can Teach us About the Future of Combat

By Tom Shugart

It’s 2 p.m. on a Sunday, several months into a war that I’ve been fighting in as a remotely piloted vehicle operator. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I receive a notification that an enemy fleet has been detected moving toward the expeditionary base that our forces recently established on the edge of their territory. Tapping on the notification for details, I see that it calls for me to log in and join a designated defensive fleet. Using dense shorthand, it also tells me who my fleet commander will be, which communications circuit to join, and what kind of vessel I should undock. Within minutes, hundreds of pilots at terminals around the world, all responding to similar notifications, have logged in and are being briefed on our mission objectives.

One might think that this is a fanciful vision of the future of warfare conducted remotely by networked military forces. But in fact it’s happening right now, albeit virtually, in the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games—specifically, in the universe of EVE Online. For some time now there has been interest from the defense sector in looking at video games as a source of innovation. Certainly, as anyone knows who has spent much time both playing modern computer games and using military hardware, the defense world could learn a lot from the gaming world. In some cases, it already has.

The defense world could learn a lot from the gaming world. In some cases, it already has.

But learning from multiplayer online gaming could go deeper than that. In particular, defense thinkers could visit EVE and other online games for new ideas about how to organize, fight, and think in a future likely to be deeply affected by trends such as the increasing prevalence of unmanned and autonomous systems, the growing centrality of information warfare, and threats to traditional command and control. Military organizations are struggling to come to grips with the mind-boggling complexity and speed of warfare between advanced armed forces. The lack of relevant combat experience — as a data point, the only currently commissioned warship in the U.S. Navy that has sunk another warship in combat is the USS Constitution, from the War of 1812 — makes this struggle harder. While multiplayer online games may not have to contend with some of the complexities and constraints of real-world operations, they could still contain troves of insights that have evolved organically through years of constant fighting and refinement — and in the absence of the impedimenta of legacy defense bureaucracies.

Read the full article from War on the Rocks.

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