The Role The Military Plays in Technological Innovation

While capitalism and competition take most of the glory for technological innovation, war and national security should get a lot of the credit. 

This relationship has not only shaped warfare but has also led to the emergence of technologies that have radically impacted civilian life. As geopolitical tensions rise around the world, we continue to see new methods of defence and surveillance arise which may one day have everyday uses in society.

The Role The Military Plays in Technological Innovation

Military as a Birthplace of New Technology

Warfare has spurred on technological advancements since the earliest civilizations. The quest for superiority on the battlefield has been the motivation behind developments ranging from ancient fortifications and weaponry to modern-day digital and cyber tools. 

The Industrial Revolution was the biggest turning point, as the synergy between science and technology ramped up. Electrical and acoustic inventions were relentless, and this era saw the birth of repeating rifles, long-range artillery, machine guns, and mechanized transport, which were primarily driven by independent inventors and engineers. But, military coordination for projects like battleships were key focal points.

World War I showcased the first large-scale mobilization of science for military purposes, transforming the landscape of warfare with the introduction of tanks and aircraft. This period wasn’t just about birthing new products, but being able to manufacture them on a vast scale. The time between prototype to manufacturing tens of thousands was rapidly reduced.

World War II was dubbed the “physicists’ war” due to the significant involvement of scientists in the war effort, most notably in the development of nuclear weapons. The Manhattan Project was a good example of the scale of collaboration between the military and scientific communities.

The Cold War era took us one step further into space exploration, computing, and the internet. The internet was originally developed to ensure communication in the event of nuclear war, making it a direct product of military efforts and funding, which has now become the basis of modern society. 

Drones in Military Operations 

The utilization of the advanced military drone marks a big shift in how surveillance and combat missions are conducted. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), offer the distinct advantage of performing high-risk tasks without endangering human lives. This completely changes the risk-reward balance in certain activities. 

They have become indispensable for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, enabling forces to gather critical information with precision and discretion. We have even seen DIY drones being made for the defence efforts in Ukraine, where normal, everyday people are creating their own drones and donating them to the military. This has spurred on the potential and knowledge for low-cost, DIY drones. This may also become a problem in the future for guerilla and terrorist attacks, where risk is reduced for bad actors to take out a very damaging attack.

Top-of-the-range military drones have now evolved to the point where they can encompass a wide range of capabilities, like long-endurance surveillance and targeted strike operations. Their deployment spans diverse environments, from densely populated urban areas to remote and inaccessible terrains. 

They provide real-time data that is crucial for decision-making on the battlefield. The drones come in varying sizes and capabilities, which include stealth features, advanced sensors, and the ability to carry payloads for specific missions. So, cheap ones can be made for simple tasks (for example, detonating a mine), while more advanced ones exist for sophisticated missions.

Cybersecurity and Cyber Warfare 

Cybersecurity has emerged as a new place where attacks occur, making it a priority for national defence strategies. Being able to remotely shut down a national electricity grid, for example, is a grave threat that is possible. 

If we consider all of the sensors and IoT devices in the aforementioned drone, it’s increasingly clear that militaries are becoming reliant on interconnected technology. It’s made cyber warfare a critical battlefield, where states and non-state actors engage in the offensive and defensive cyber operations to protect national interests, disrupt enemy networks, and gain strategic advantages.

It’s no surprise then that the government around the world hire hackers and talented bad actors to work with them. Cybersecurity in the military encompasses a broad spectrum of activities. It’s primiarly defense over critical infrastructure, but it also includes intelligence gathering and the development of cyber weapons.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics into military operations is another emerging advancement. AI-driven technologies enhance decision-making processes, as they have a growing intuition for novel situations. This allows them to be more adept at strategic planning and assessing vast amounts of data. 

Autonomous systems that are powered by AI are again a way of minimizing human risk. Robotics, including unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are deployed for bomb disposal, logistics support, and complex reconnaissance missions in environments that are dangerous for human soldiers. 

While previously such vehicles could be remote-controlled, they’re increasingly able to think for themselves and adapt to real-time information without human input. Of course, this scales easier than manpower does, which further adds to the notion that a nation’s military is just a reflection of its economy.

Space Technologies and Warfare 

Space technology has become another aspect of military consieraton, with nations recognizing the strategic and tactical advantages offered by space-based assets. Seemingly harmless space exploration by China is often labelled as a national security threat to the US, because it’s not so much about the current mission, but the presence they’re able to establish in space.

Satellite technology supports many operations, including global communication, navigation, surveillance, and early warning systems for missile launches. The militarization of space involves the deployment of assets capable of space surveillance, among many other things like anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.


The relentless pace of technological innovation continues to work alongside military strategy and research. From the evolution of drone technology and the critical role of cybersecurity to the oncoming rise of AI and space technology, the military sector has always been at the forefront of adopting advanced technologies. Sometimes adopting them, but sometimes being the cause behind their invention.

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