Looming global conflict could bring military technology development into focus

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 27 May 2014. Think about the greatest periods military technological innovations in recent history. World War I saw development of the main battle tank, the aircraft carrier, and the depth charge. For its part, the U.S. developed the pilotless drone and air traffic control during the 20th Century's first big war.

Yes, you read that right. The first pilotless drone was developed for the U.S. Navy in 1916 and 1917 by Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt, who designed it as an unmanned aerial bomb and precursor to the cruise missile. It navigated with gyros and a barometer, and made its first flight in 1918.

U.S. Army experts during the first world war installed the first operational two-way radios in airplanes. In 1917 a human voice first was transmitted by radio from a flying airplane to an operator on the ground. Also during World War I the U.S. M1903 Springfield was one of the most dependable and accurate infantry rifles around, although it had been developed more than a decade before.

World War II saw the development of radar and sonar, the atom bomb, digital electronics, and the jet aircraft. The U.S. during this period developed the pressurized aircraft cabin. The Korean War saw the beginning of helicopter warfare, which was refined during Vietnam a decade later.

Related: Radar technology to jump from microwave ovens to home heating systems?

The Cold War period of the 1950s to the 1990s saw unprecedented development of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, manned and unmanned space technology, surveillance satellites, long-endurance submarine warfare, and many other innovations.

The conflicts in Southwest Asia in recent years saw unmanned aerial vehicles come into their own, as well as the marriage of digital signal processing and RF and microwave technology to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Related: The histories of human flight and electronics are closely intertwined

While military technological innovations have spawned quickly during times of conflict, it's been inevitable that periods of technological stagnation set in for the military when there's not serious trouble on the horizon.

That last one wouldn't seem to describes the times we're in today. That's among the reasons that I see military technology innovation accelerating over the next decade, despite shrinking military research budgets and dismal prospects for increases in military spending anytime soon.

People are fatigued with the ongoing insurgent and terrorist conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq -- military and civilian alike. With announced pullouts underway in both places, people are looking beyond the Southwest Asia for catalysts to military innovation.

Related: Russian T-95 main battle tank: could this combat vehicle be more formidable than we thought?

The struggle over Ukraine is getting people's attention, as are national struggles in the Western Pacific usually involving China over territory, resources, and fishing rights.

There's nothing like national conflict to spur military technology development, and we just might be on the verge of potential blowups in Europe and Asia go produce a new sense of urgency in the Pentagon to get military technology development moving forward.

There's noting like increasing tensions among superpowers to bring military needs into focus.

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