One of the greatest lessons learned from history is that man has always depended on the range, firepower, accuracy, and lethality of weapons for victory in war.
The invention of rifles, machine guns, tanks, fighter planes, submarines, and nuclear weapons changed the outcome of wars in the 20th Century. In 1860, HMS Warrior became Britain’s first iron-hulled, armored battleship. It was aptly called the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet.
In 1884 an American-British inventor called Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim invented the first recoil-operated Maxim machine gun. It was the first fully automatic machine gun in the world. The massive destructive power of machine guns changed the equations of warfare. A small team of just two men behind the machine gun equipped to fire over 600 bullets per minute could now kill or maim hundreds of enemy soldiers within its deadly killing range.
The 1920s-1930s were the age of mobility and firepower and saw the influx of tanks and aircraft for use in offensive and defensive roles. Likewise, the induction of aircraft carriers and radars (in the 1930s-1940s) was another milestone in the evolution of military technologies. The introduction of nuclear weapons in the 1940s-1950s added to the destructive potential.
Between 1945 and 1990, the United States manufactured more than 70,000 nuclear bombs and warheads in different shapes and sizes including land mines, artillery shells, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Thirty-six percent of these warheads were intended for tactical or battlefield use and about 17 percent for defensive purposes for anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine.
Each of these developments left a lasting effect on the conduct of warfare.
Even today and in the future technology will always be a decisive factor. The armies with the latest machines will have an edge on the battlefield. Technology may dominate and change the complexion of warfare and the way it is conducted but cannot replace the human soldier.
Even the most modern military technology will need to be supplemented by a human will to fight and win.
World War II is a perfect example where the weapons used towards the end were quite different from those employed at the beginning of the Great War. World War II was the first “high-tech war.”
Necessity is the mother of invention
There’s a saying that necessity is the mother of invention. This holds true in the case of World War II which presented many tactical and logistical challenges and virtually amplified the need for— bigger bombs, faster airplanes, better medical treatments, and more precise communications.
Even the terms “science” and “technology” were coined in the nineteenth century. The technological innovation developed to win World War II left a lasting impact not just on the World War but on life in general after 1945.
The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one of the most significant scientific and technological advances made during World War II that virtually brought the war to an end. The atom bomb is the most obvious but not the only example of the list of military technologies introduced to win World War II which includes jet aircraft, guided missiles, microwave radar, and the proximity fuse, to name just a few.
These enduring legacies of World War II have forever changed the way people live – like using computers, watching the daily weather report, and visiting the doctor.
For instance, a practically harmless device called cavity magnetron used during the War to increase the range and effectiveness of radars is today a commonly used appliance in homes all over the world as a microwave oven.
The same technology also helps meteorologists gain knowledge of weather patterns, track rainfall, as well as storms, and forecast the weather.
The advances in microwave and computer technology, developed during World War II have also brought about significant changes in the field of surgery and medicine. Some of these new improvements in medical techniques include blood transfusions, skin grafts, and trauma treatment. Likewise, the need for antibacterial treatment to save the lives of millions of soldiers led to the discovery and large-scale production of penicillin as a “miracle drug” to save millions of lives. Even today, penicillin is used to treat bacterial infections. By 1944 more than 20 companies were working to produce penicillin and soldiers carried vials of penicillin with them as a lifesaving drug during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Even the science of nutrition evolved greatly during WWII. Scientists tried to identify the vitamins and minerals required for a healthy body and conducted experiments to calculate the calories burned during various activities and prepare formulations to provide the required nutrition and energy. One such evolution was a fortified chocolate bar that provided a soldier with 1,800 calories of energy.
Gulf war – a turning point
The Persian Gulf War codenamed Operation Desert Storm in 1991 also known as the “100-hour war” was an important landmark in the history of warfare. It was a totally new kind of information-age warfare. For the first time in history television cameras captured live videos of the war and brought them to the drawing rooms of people all over the world who were able to watch the live telecasts of fighters taking off from aircraft carriers and missiles hitting targets. The war saw extensive use of GPS for navigation, radars, stealth bombers, cruise missiles, laser-guided “smart” bombs, and high-tech weapon systems for surveillance, target acquisition, and command and control.
What will future wars look like?
Warfare is increasingly becoming more vigorous, complex, and multidimensional.
We live in an “age of intelligent machines” where new and innovative technologies will change the manner in which wars are going to be fought. The speed at which things will happen in the future conflict zone– will offer very little reaction time for combat and fire support elements.
Today computers, the internet, communications satellites, and information systems in the digital battlefield provide the commander with the right information, at the right time. This should help commanders in the modern battlefield take immediate decisions with lesser chances of human error and enable them to strike first, strike deep and strike effectively – where they want, and at the time when they should.
This should lead to better decision-making, increased mobility, and improved communications with a much greater degree of fluidity on the future battlefield.
Future battles will predominately be dominated by technology. Technological superiority will be the decisive factor and key to success in the future battlefield.
When we talk of technologies used in the conduct of war, we are essential to have the following five categories in our mind:
- Offensive technologies – to defeat and crush the enemy
- Defensive technologies – to protect own troops and assets
- Transportation technology – to move troops, and weapons
- Communication technologies – for command and control to coordinate the deployment of troops;
- Sensors and Surveillance platforms- to detect or monitor the movement and deployment of the enemy’s combat forces on the battlefield and guide weaponry to hit the enemy where it hurts most.
It will be an age where it would be practically impossible to hide in the modern battlefield where multiple ground-based and airborne sensors will keep track of the movement and deployment of the enemy’s combat forces using satellites, airborne surveillance systems, heliborne surveillance systems, UAVs, battlefield surveillance radars, weapon locating radars, long-range electro-optical sensors, and sound ranging systems. This intelligence input about the enemy activity will help but present new challenges to the Commanders on the battlefield who will have to rely on technological tools to make the right decision and the right time.
Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will help in the acquisition and processing of information received from different sources in future wars which are predicted to be much more complicated and will take place in urban areas. This would lead to a different kind of arms race where combat robots will help in the planning and execution of military operations and hypersonic weapons will be used to penetrate the enemy’s missile defense systems. Even today many countries all over the world are developing combat robots, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted vehicles, and other robotic systems that can function in the air, surface, and underwater.
However, even though developments in the field of science and technology will help design and build thousands of new, high-tech war medicines– they would be practically worthless without people trained to use them.
The guns in the future may have more range, accuracy, and rate of fire but in spite of all these nothing can replace the man behind the gun and his guts to take on the enemy — against all odds.
Nothing in the world can replace good leadership, as well as motivated and trained soldiers who will remain the ultimate battle-winning factor for victory in war.