After the conclusion of World War II, the military industrial complex truly began to produce some simply amazing technological breakthroughs. As countries around the globe were engaged in a competition to produce the best technologies the fastest we began to see the inventions of man-portable missiles, spy satellites, and a plethora of other gadgets that are still used in today’s combat operations.
Critically examining the inventions and uses of these technologies helps to gauge the level of technological advancement in modern warfare. These often impersonal devices can bring about changed feelings towards war on the global stage. The issues of sovereignty and civilian casualties are at the forefront of such discussions, and should be considered when examining the following technologies.
Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) – Coming to prominence shortly after World War II, the RPG is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon, firing rockets equipped with an explosive warhead. While the accuracy will only remain intact within a few hundred feet of firing, it is easily portable while still maintaining the same explosive force as a stick of dynamite upon impact (Speck, 2012).
The RPG is largely popular in asymmetrical guerilla warfare spanning many countries, from Ireland to Chechnya. It is still a weapon of choice for many combatants in the 21st century. While industrialized countries such as the United States continue to wage war with cutting edge 21st century technology, the RPG remains highly useful for small contingencies of opposition forces. Ease of access coupled with simplicity of usage makes this weapon a preferred item to have in ones weapons cache on the battlefield.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) – The terminology of this weapon was first used the 1970’s, when British forces were dealing with the Irish Republic Army insurgency, and their use of fertilizer and semtex to create improvised yet highly effective surprise traps for their foes. The use of IED’s in modern warfare shows the truly indiscriminate nature of battle-field technology in the 21st century. These devices can and do harm not only to military personnel, but to innocent civilians who make the fatal flaw of walking or driving over such devices.
There has been an indisputable growth of anonymity added to modern warfare due to technological advancements in the preceding decades. Does the use of UAVs promote a feeling of being ‘removed from the battlefield’ that allows an individual to consider ‘pulling the trigger’ without wholly considering the consequences? Does this mainstreaming of remote controls and ‘video game-like’ technology create any hazards in modern warfare, or is it a positive step forward that helps save lives that could otherwise be lost when engaging in traditional forms of combat?
Man-Portable air-defense systems (MANPDs) – Development of the original surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs) began in the 1940’s. Rapid advancement began though roughly two decades later in the 1960’s. Modern usage of such technology can be seen with devices known as ‘stingers’, which are infrared-homing SAMs, developed by the United States.
Stingers were used combat in the early 1980’s during the Cold War combat operations between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. With the ability to hit an aircraft from nearly 16,000 feet, this weapon once again introduced a level of long-distance warfare where the enemy was simply seen as a target to strike from a distance, rather than a human being that was being destroyed by the hands of another human being (Baglole).
Reconnaissance Satellite – With early development dating back to the 1950’s, the United States and Russia initially began trying to garner this technology in their great ‘space race’. This technological competition was exemplified the quest for global hegemony.
In modern warfare, this technology provides never before access to high resolution photographs (IMINT), communications eavesdropping (SIGINT), as well as the ability to detect the launch of any missiles. This technology is popularly referred to as “spy satellites.”
The topic of civil rights and the usefulness of SIGINT remains an issue of high contention around the globe, with ardent proponents citing the need to eavesdrop on others to prevent potential terrorist plots, as well as those who believe this is a flagrant violation of individual rights that has taken “the desire to protect” a step too far.
To learn more about the role of electronic warfare in 21st century “War on Terror”, you can visit this New York Times article.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – Functioned by a remote controlled navigator often far away from the battle field, UAV’s saw their official indoctrination to the United states military in the early 1970’s. Highly useful in a hazardous territory, a UAV can be used by its controllers to conduct reconnaissance, to provide logistical support, to target enemies, and much more. While many UAV’s are simply used as an “eye in the sky”, there are other uses as well used specifically for combat, detailed below:
Armed Drones – Coming to prominence only within the past two decades are missile-laden UAV’s with such ominous names as “Reaper” and “Predator” drones, used to target and kill enemy targets of high value. Largely used by the United States in modern warfare scenarios, these armed drones can be used to attack targets that are deemed too dangerous or inhospitable for soldiers to enter, taking 21st century combat to a new level of anonymity in the battlefield.