Military - Military Technology

Military Technology

As with any occupation, since the ancient times the military has been distinguished from other members of the society by their tools, the military weapons and military equipment used in combat. When Stone Age humans first took a sliver of flint to tip the spear, it was the first example of applying technology to improve the weapon.

Since then, the advances made by human societies and that of weapons has been irretrievably linked. Stone weapons gave way to Bronze Age weapons, and later the Iron Age weapons. With each technological change was realised some tangible increase in military capability, such as through greater effectiveness of a sharper edge in defeating leather armour, or improved density of materials used in manufacture of weapons.

On land the first really significant technological advance in warfare was the development of the ranged weapons and notably the sling. The next significant advance came with the domestication of the horses and mastering of horse riding.

Arguably the greatest invention that affected not just the military, but all society, after adoption of fire, was the wheel, and its use in the construction of the chariot. There were no advances in military technology until, from the mechanical arm action of a slinger, the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Persians, Chinese, etc. development the siege engines. The bow was manufactured in increasingly larger and more powerful versions to increase both the weapon range and armour penetration performance. These developed into the powerful composite and/or recurve bows, and crossbows of Ancient China. These proved particularly useful during the rise of cavalry, encased in ever-more sophisticated armour, dominating the battlefield.

Somewhat earlier in medieval China, gunpowder had been invented, and was increasingly used by the military in combat. The use of gunpowder in the early vase-like mortars in Europe, and advanced versions of the long bow and cross bow, which all had armour-piercing arrowheads, that put an end to the dominance of the armoured knight. After the long bow, which required great skill and strength to use, the next most significant technological advance was the musket, which could be used effectively with little training. In time the successors to muskets and cannon, in the form of rifles and artillery, would become core battlefield technology.

As the speed of technological advances accelerated in civilian applications, so too warfare became more industralised. The newly invented machine gun and repeating rifle redefined firepower on the battlefield and, in part, explains the high casualty rates of the American Civil War. The next breakthrough was the conversion of artillery parks from the muzzle loading guns to the breech loading guns, and in particular the highly mobile, recoilless, field-gun, the French Soixante-Quinze, in the late 19th century.

The development of breech loading had the greatest effect on naval warfare, for the first time since the Middle Ages altering the way weapons are mounted on warships, and therefore naval tactics, now divorced from the reliance on sails with the invention of the internal combustion. A further advance in military naval technology was the design of the submarine and its weapon, the torpedo.

During World War I the need to break the deadlock of the trenches saw the rapid development of many new technologies, particularly the tanks and military aviation. Military aviation was extensively used, and particularly the bombers during the World War II, which marked the most frantic period of weapons development in history. Many new designs and concepts were used in combat, and all existing technologies were improved between 1939 and 1945.

During the war significant advances were made in military communications through use of radio, military intelligence through use of the radar, and in military medicine through use of penicillin, while in the air the missile, jet aircraft and helicopters were seen for the first time. Perhaps the most infamous of all military technologies was the creation of the atomic bomb, although the effects of radiation were unknown until the early 1950s. Far greater use of military vehicles had finally eliminated the cavalry from the military force structure.

After World War II, with the onset of the Cold War, the constant technological development of new weapons was institutionalised as participants engaged in a constant arms race in capability development. This constant state of weapons development continues into the present, and remains a constant drain on national resources, which some blame on the military-industrial complex.

The most significant technological developments that influenced combat have been the guided missiles which are used by all Services. More recently, information technology, and its use in surveillance, including space-based reconnaissance systems, have played an increasing role in military operations.

The impact of information warfare that focuses on attacking command communication systems, and military databases has been coupled with the new development in military technology has been the use of robotic systems in intelligence combat, both in hardware and software applications.

Recently, there has also been a particular focus towards the use of renewable fuels for running military vehicles on. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable fuels can be produced in any country, creating a strategic advantage. The US military has already committed itself to have 50% of its energy consumption come from alternative sources.

The MIRV, ICBM and the Tsar Bomb are considered the most destructive weapons invented.

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