Innovation in Technologies of Lethal Weapons

Innovation in Technologies of Lethal Weapons


Humans are referred as social animals as they prefer to live within societies, communities and groups in an interdependent manner. However, even a glance at the human history would reveal that human societies have never been completely peaceful and violence and conflict have shaped several chapters of human history (Singer, 2010, p. 62). As the human society has advanced, the same has been the case with the weapons used in these conflicts. The changes that have been brought the weaponry have changed the warfare which has in turn changed the course of several events within the human history (Brunstetter & Braun, 2011, p. 337). This paper is a brief attempt to explore and analyse the changes or innovation in the technologies of lethal weapons and more importantly, the prime motivations behind the same.

Innovation in Technologies of Lethal Weapons


Precision-guided munition, drones, nuclear weapons, missiles, nukes and laser and plasma guns represent the latest innovation in the field of lethal weapons. Although, there are several other better and more deadly weapons that are within the process of development and testing, they are yet to prove themselves in the arena (Brunstetter & Braun, 2011, p. 337; Markoff, 2010; Mahnken, 2008, p. 254).

The prime motivation behind the innovation of unmanned combat air vehicle and its improvement over the period of time is to ensure lesser civilian causalities. Since the earliest times, conflicts and wars always translated into civilian causalities (Berkowitz, 2003, p. 428). Over the decades, military forces have realised that civilian causalities, at least in the long term, are less likely to behove them. In fact, they have the capacity to create more hatred amongst the common people against the opposing forces, even if the opposing forces genuinely mean no harm to the innocent civilians (Latham, 2002, p. 231; Singer, 2009, p. 74).

This was one of the reasons why terrorists and high value targets have been trying to take shelter in urban and populous settings since the same deters any action from the side of the opposing army. However, with the advent of drone and precision within this technology over the period of time has allowed military forces to accurately eliminate high value targets and that also from a safe distance with minimum possible civilian causalities (Sherman, 2005, p. 30; Mahnken, 2008, p. 254).

During the early days of War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the US relied heavily on missiles and bombs. Although, they killed several thousands of people, most of them were civilians as the bombs and missiles can only kill indiscriminately. The same did eliminate some of the most wanted terrorists in the war against terrorism but it also created several new enemies as the civilians who lost their families and loved ones were now taking up arms against the US military and NATO forces for revenge. Modern wars cannot be won through force and conflict but through winning the hearts and minds of the people (Gurr & Cole, 2000, p. 54; Singer, 2010, p. 62).

Another concern that has led to the creation of drone technology and similar unmanned combat air vehicles is their ability to gather critical intelligence and that also for extended periods of time. Terrorists, knowing that their movements can be tracked and monitored, abandon the use of all forms of technology. However, even before killing them, it is always critical to gather as much intelligence about their whereabouts, plans, strategies and networks as possible. Since sending soldiers to spy on them is too risky and unrealistic, drones can do the same and that also in a much less riskier manner because of their unmanned and concealed nature (Cavelty & Mauer, 2012, p. 81).

The use of chemical and biological weapons was a great threat for much of the 20th century but over the years, the world has quickly moved the political delegitimisation of chemical and biological wars for reasons that have discussed above that they have the potential to cause indiscriminate damage to the masses and even the coming generations of the people that have been affected by the use of those weapons (Lew, et al., 2001, p. 12).

Many of the technologies in combat and weaponry and combat developed in the recent past aims at ensuring that the people using these technologies are not put within harm way. Consider the example of the Roman Empire fighting the Third Servile War against Spartacus and his men. In order to end the rebellion of several thousand men, the Roman Empire had to send an even greater number of men and comprise their lives for ending the rebellion (Berkowitz, 2003, p. 428). For most part of the human history, conflicts have been won by armies, militaries and legions which had greater manpower because they were able to sacrifice the lives of greater number of people and in the process of doing so, they could take more enemies down with them (White, 2005, p. 335). This was true for Eastern and collective societies, where great emphasis was put on the survival of the society, loyalty and selflessness. However, with the advancement of human society, awareness of human rights, increasing importance of liberty and freedom and rise of individualism, governments, militaries and people themselves are less willing to put them in the harm’s way (Gurr & Cole, 2000, p. 54). 

 Drones, nukes, missiles, laser weapons, cyber wars and others represent the shift from willing to sacrifice the lives soldiers hoping that they would inflict greater damage on the enemies’ ranks to putting the safety and security of one’s own people first (Sidky, 2007, p. 849). Human capital is worth more living than dead and policymakers understand the same. Furthermore, in a vigilant democratic system, citizens will never allow policymakers to retain their political positions or for that matter of fact, prevent themselves from criminal charges and prosecution, if they put the lives of their citizens in danger (Cavelty & Mauer, 2012, p. 81). 

Furthermore, the human society has advanced and progressed from its more violent and bloodier version. The human civilisation has evolved from brutally and indiscriminately killing its enemies to showing a more compassionate and civilised approach towards conflicts (Martin & Wright, 2003, p. 212; Pelton, 2007, p. 98). A few centuries ago, bloodshed and violence were considered to the defining feature of strong and dominant but that is no longer true. As the human societies progress, the new generations have come to hate and despise active engagement in bloody conflicts. Civil societies, international organisations, non government organisational and pressure groups can exert great influence on governments and militaries to uphold civil liberties at all times (Sherman, 2005, p. 30; Jones, 2011, p. 96).

 However, when the general tendency of people to engage in wars has declined, the threat of war hasn’t. The biggest 25 conflicts in the 20th century have translated into the deaths of more than 190 million people (Singer, 2009, p. 30). The world is now less secure and there are several ongoing conflicts within the world which have the potential to turn into full scale global wars. The conflict between North and South Korea, Iran and Israel, American and Al Qaeda, whose terrorists are hiding within Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and Kashmir Dispute and the arch rivalry between India and Pakistan and others; represents an ever increasing threat of war (White, 2005, p. 335; McMahan, 2004, p. 699).

Gone are the days when the entire country could be drafted to wars. This advanced civilisation means that not all people are willing to go to war or interested in leaving their lifestyles but at the same time, they policymakers realise that the threat of a war has increased and the world would change for the coming generations if a Third World War were to break (Martin & Wright, 2003, p. 212). Therefore, militaries and policymakers are constantly seeking to invent new technologies of killing people which require lesser input from people and could yet generate better and greater results (Gurr & Cole, 2000, p. 54; Fink, 2010, p. 239).

Furthermore, these technologies also represent the inclination of governments and militaries to conduct covert operations and escape the eye of the civil and human rights organisations might create havoc on the government for better and humane treatment of the prisoners, which in itself, is a risk. Militaries prefer to gather quick intelligence from their targets and kill them as to end their chapters and send strong message to the followers and other members of the opposing army groups (Cavelty & Mauer, 2012, p. 8; Latham, 2002, p. 231).

Therefore, the latest technologies in killing people have attempted at depersonalising the war and at the same time inflicting the maximum damage on the enemies with the greatest possible precision. In fact, it is the desire of militaries and countries to be become more precise within their operations which explain the advent of laser and plasma weapons which can fire ammunition at the speed of light with almost 100 precision to great distances without being influenced by gravity, air, light or any other external factors (Fink, 2010, p. 239). In the past, when soldiers were aiming at moving targets at great distances, they had to compensate for their movement which would happen during the time the bullets are travelling towards the target but with laser and plasma weapons, it is impossible to evade the shot of an accurately fired laser (Lew, et al., 2001, p. 12; Martin, 2002, p. 65).

For military soldiers and experts who participate in the process of bombing missiles and drones on the terrorists have almost the same experience as a boy playing a video game except for the fact that when they press those buttons, dozens of people actually lose their lives thousands of miles away. Important here to note is that the human society, which has been extremely violent for thousands of years, moved towards becoming a more civilised society primarily because of the embrace of egalitarian principles (Sharkey, 2011, p. 235; Finn, 2011). One of the several reasons behind the emergence of egalitarianism as argued by several scholars is the emergence of new weapons which could bring physical strong and weak people on the same footing. For example, during the Roman and Greek empires and before, much importance was given to the physical strength of man as the same predicted his ability to win a particular conquest (Alexander, 2000, p. 85). However, with the invention of machine guns which allowed even the most effeminate and weak men on an equal footing with physically well built and strong men, egalitarianism began to prevail (Martin & Wright, 2003, p. 212; McMahan, 2004, p. 699).

Innovation in technologies of killing is motivated by the desire of governments to become more efficient. Except for countries such as North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, governments no longer the liberty of spending the biggest chunk of their resources and budgets on wars but their priorities have changed to economic development,  education, health, infrastructure development and others (Lew, et al., 2001, p. 12; Karp, 2008, p. 124). Furthermore, the ongoing movement towards fiscal responsibility and smaller governments means that policymakers do not enjoy the same liberty to spend at militarisation, which has forced them to spend their limited resources at making more effective weapons for killing people. The latest weapons are the most precise in the human history and when compared on the basis of their ability to kill the number of people within a given timeframe, they are much more cost effective if compared with prices that are adjusted for inflation (Cavelty & Mauer, 2012, p. 81; Brunstetter & Braun, 2011, p. 337).


The innovation in technologies of lethal weapons represent the advancement in human civilisation, rejection of bloodshed and violence, changed lifestyle and priorities of an ordinary man, fiscal responsibility and greater precision and a burning desire to extend force and influence over the rest of the world.

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