The evolution of military technology over the years has often matched the scientific and technological capability of any given era. Ancient warfare often relied on metal working, the invention of gunpowder introduced explosives, and modern warfare is becoming increasingly reliant on computer and remote-controlled technology such as drones. Often, the strongest military force is not based on having the largest army, but rather on having the most advanced forms of technology (Farrell and Terriff 23).
World War I can best be characterized by widespread use of vehicles, along with new developments in chemistry that were used to create poison gases. World War I is the first major war to involve the use of airplanes, land vehicles and U-boats, which were early German submarines. The use of vehicles changed how wars were traditionally fought, as most conflicts preceding this era involved two standing armies confronting one another. Vehicles allowed for the disruption of supply lines, as airplanes could attack areas that previously would have been protected by geographic features, and submarines created new threats to shipping routes. At the same time, new chemical weapons such as mustard gas were being used on the battlefield, which caused many to begin researching how this could be effectively combatted.
World War II saw the introduction of even more powerful vehicles, including land vehicles such as tanks and bombers. Along with the increased use of submarines, radar and sonar technology also became more advanced as a countermeasure. However, the most significant technological development at this time was the creation of the first atomic bomb, which introduced a new type of threat that was impossible to counter. The atomic bomb was developed following breakthroughs in physics, which identified that the ability to split an atom would cause a cascade of destructive energy. This technology alone was capable of definitively ending the war in Japan, after the bomb was dropped twice on the island nation. At the same time, non-atomic rocket technology also developed rapidly during this time, with the power to launch strikes from increasingly distant locations.
The Cold War was largely defined by advancements in nuclear technology, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. The missiles are capable of launching a nuclear strike from a distance of thousands of miles. Technologies based on previous radar technology were used to develop new forms of stealth bombers. Improvements in nearly all forms of military technology, such as more advanced land, sea and air vehicles were also created during this era. Thus, the general trend during the Cold War was the reiteration of previous technologies to make them more efficient, and ultimately more destructive. New satellite technologies were also created to help with communications and reconnaissance.
In the past twenty years, military technology has become increasingly reliant on digital and mobile technologies (Farrell and Terriff 78). This has created not only advancements in military communications, but also in the creation of weaponized drones which can be operated remotely. These forms of weaponry are often preferred because they do not place the individual controlling them at the same amount of risk as if they were flying a plane. Specific computer code can also be weaponized, as society’s increasing reliance on a digital infrastructure also makes it more susceptible to attack. Thus, military technology is constantly evolving, with new methods of attack being balanced by developing new forms of defense. These technologies tend to iterate on previous technology in most instances, which has led to the advent of many new technologies that do not have a military aspect. For instance, satellite technology was motivated by its militaristic potential, but today is used for many nonmilitary purposes such as mass media communications.