Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-2 fighters hold a joint military drill with U.S. B-1B bombers and F-16 fighters off Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, Japan
Japan is pushing for a high-tech defense strategy. In photo: Japan's Air Self-Defense Force's F-2 fighters hold a joint military drill with U.S. B-1B bombers and F-16 fighters. Reuters


  • Weaponization of emerging technologies drives Japan's interest in military metaverse: ASU's Braden R. Allenby
  • Deception in defense metaverse a 'legitimate' military tactic: Atlantic Council's Thammy Evans
  • Japan is also looking to bolster drone technology, satellite analysis and cyberdefense training

Japan is speeding up the development of cutting edge defense technology amid a roiled geopolitical environment -- and a military metaverse just may be the "most effective" tool for the Japanese armed forces to prepare to take on their enemies.

The Japanese government's Defense Technology Guidelines 2023 released June pointed to the need to adjust to the changing technologies of modern warfare and noted 12 key priorities for around 200 companies unofficially selected to participate in the country's defense tech drive.

Notably, these include "visualization of invisible things" and "capabilities that make virtual/imaginary information as real things." In upcoming meetings with companies joining the initiative, the government is expected to discuss the creation of a metaverse to deceive opponents.

Braden R. Allenby, president's professor at the Arizona State University's school of Sustainable Engineering and Built Environment in Civil Engineering, told International Business Times that Japan's interest in creating a military metaverse was not surprising, given the "concomitant weaponization of many non-traditional technologies."

"Creating misleading 'realities' at different scales can be the most effective way to neutralize an adversary's attacks," Allenby said. Along with Joel Garreau, Allenby observed in 2017 that "weaponized narrative (an attack that uses confusion, complexity and political or social schisms to undermine an enemy's will) is the new battlespace."

Defense analyst Jennifer McArdle and CEO of Tangram Flex Caitlin Dohrman wrote in War On The Rocks last year that a military metaverse has many possible applications, including high-tech education of troops, immersive recruitment, and potentially improving interoperability across defense and security communities.

The use of deception is "a long standing military art," Thammy Evans, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Geotech Center, told IBT. Such a concept infused into a defense metaverse is a "legitimate" military tactic that can be used to divert an attack, not only protecting Japanese troops but also civilians.

The most popular success story that utilized deception in the military was Operation Fortitude during World War II, when Allied armies set up fake military buildings and used inflatable tanks and dummy landing craft to deceive Nazi Germany's forces.

Security experts found in a 2019 deception study, "Immersive Virtual Reality Attacks and the Human Joystick," that it was possible to exploit virtual reality systems "to control immersed users and move them to a location in a physical space without their knowledge." The researchers coined the term "Human Joystick Attack" to describe the said scenario.

The researchers, who included cyber forensics expert Ibrahim "Abe" Baggili, were able to overlay images in the field of vision of participants without their knowledge, and even modified VR environmental factors that forced the participants to hit physical objects and walls.

Baggili told IBT that Japan can use deception in various ways virtually. For example, troops can utilize "subversion" for the purpose of changing an outcome in an opponent's decision-making. "By leveraging virtual reality, they may also be able to mimic people (or perhaps important figures) in the real world" through some form of AI or generative AI. In turn, the said mimicry can make users believe a specific message or something untrue about the impersonated figures.

But he clarified that the metaverse remains a "theory." While virtual reality and augmented reality applications already exist, there are still many hurdles along the way before a metaverse for various sectors, such as defense, is achieved.

Tokyo will need to match or 'over match' the PLASSF

Aside from creating a defense metaverse to apply deception, it appears Japan is also looking to improve drone technology, satellite communications analysis and cyberdefense training as indicated by some of the companies in the initial list.

Japan's focus on specific areas of defense technology is driven by lessons being learned from the Russian war in Ukraine, Evans said. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cyber warfare for both offense and defense, and distributed autonomous associations (DAOs) are just a few of the manifestations of a "changing character of warfare."

Furthermore, the crucial role of satellite communication technology was highlighted in the Ukraine war by Elon Musk's Starlink system, Allenby said.

With all the changes to modern warfare being induced by the war in Ukraine and aggressive postures by Tokyo's traditional opponents North Korea, Russia and China, Japan had to prepare itself for challenges related to a weaponized narrative and cognitive warfare, Allenby, who wrote 'The Applied Ethics of Emerging Military and Security Technologies,' added.

Atlantic Council's Evans addedt hat Japan's defense tech efforts are also being driven by Beijing's People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), which has been growing its technological and digital capabilities. Tokyo will need to either match or "over match" the PLASSF if it gets caught up in disputes in the region; like, for instance, Beijing's territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

President Xi Jinping has said the Chinese military will continue to integrate smart technologies to improve modernization and "speed up the development of unmanned, intelligent combat capabilities."

As China pursues smart technologies, automation has become another key priority for Tokyo. Cyber attacks are becoming more and more common in the world of modern conflict and AI-powered automation could be crucial in diverting especially sophisticated attacks from China and other cyber powers.

Japanese Navy's Mogami-class frigate boasts a stealthy design and features a high level of automation in an attempt to address manpower constraints. It can operate unmanned underwater and surface vehicles and incorporates augmented reality tech for navigation.

Tokyo is keen on speeding up the process of achieving cutting-edge security technology, but challenges are expected, considering how the government will want high quality yet cost-effective equipment.

There's also the issue of adapting to the level and speed that Tokyo wants, especially with China's fast evolving defense tech. "Traditional ways of contracting for military products – 'here's the contract, now do it' – will need to shift to 'China just developed this capability, so we need to change this,'" Allenby noted.

Policies and permissions shouldn't be taken off the equation, Evans said. While companies involved in the program may easily build hardware and equipment, regulations that come with the use of such defense tech tools usually pose a greater challenge and the Japanese government will have to ensure interoperable standards are met in a timely manner.

Japan's fiscal 2023 defense budget stands at 6.8 trillion yen (about $46.6 billion), which Tokyo says is 27.4% higher than last year. A total of 3.3% will be dedicated to research and development investments into advanced technology, which is 3.1 times more than the amount in the previous year.