Oculus Rift puts DARPA cyberwar soldiers virtually ringside

DARPA, the US government's R&D arm, is looking to Oculus Rift to make cyber-warfare more approachable to the American military, immersing the military in 3D representations of target networks. Part of Plan X, DARPA's ongoing work on reducing the technical requirements for a new age of digital warfare, the Oculus integration is currently only conceptual, though the agency says it has already been briefed on upcoming hardware from the headset company.

Plan X's premise is that while online warfare is only going to increase, the number of people versed enough in coding and development to wage it will not keep pace. Instead, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contends, it'll need to create a new breed of tools that are more familiar to people, such as using wearable displays like Rift.

"It's like you're swimming in the internet," program manager Frank Pound told Wired, describing the system. Right now, it's little more than an illustration of how the VR headset could be implemented, developed by Frog Design and Intific, but DARPA has supposedly briefed high-ranking officials in both the Pentagon and Congress about its potential.

The system won't necessarily be used to reach out into foreign networks and plant the IT equivalent of a bomb, however. DARPA suggests it could also be useful for planning more precise – and even safer – interactions with the real world, by giving military personnel a more comprehensive way of experimenting with the various possibilities.

Meanwhile, the agency has also been looking at the potential of wearables in the field. Earlier this year, it showed off a military-spec wearable computer – think Glass for infantry – which could deliver mission information, video beamed from drones above the warzone, and other data into a hands-free eyepiece.

Of course, not everyone is happy with how the US military is broaching cyber-security. The US recently charged several members of the Chinese army with cyber-espionage, reigniting allegations from China that it had been the victim of "systematic" hacking attempts by the US.

Plan X is set to run until the end of 2017, DARPA says, though the exact outcome – and the hardware involved – of what the R&D team will actually deliver to the military is unclear.