Early warfare, as best we can tell, was more like gang fights in the modern ghetto than the sort of stuff we associate with war in Antiquity. One settlement would round up some men, who would take on the men of the neighboring settlement. They went at one another in a melee, using axes, clubs and short swords, maybe, with the leaders right there in the middle of it, leading their war bands. A lot of it may have been ritualized, rather than actual combat, but that’s speculation. What’s clear is ti was small scale.
Prosperity changed that as better organization and better agriculture allowed for more men to be full time warriors. Greater prosperity also meant better weapons. Ranged weapons made the full speed charge, by men on foot, a losing proposition, unless you could put your men on horses or in chariots. Speed meant you could have formations and then flanking maneuvers, which required strategy and execution. Each innovation led to more innovations. The ways of war changed as military technology and tactics evolved.
Changes in military technology often have unforeseen consequences. The introduction of the machine gun in the Great War is the best example. Even with the new artillery, war was expected to be men advancing on one another over open fields. This was the way war was fought and the way the French were prepared to fight it. They even had their officers in colorful uniforms so they could be seen by their men. The machine gun made this style of war utter insanity, but no one thought about that until the bodies piled up.
The machine gun, along with fantastic improvements in artillery, resulted in trench warfare that was hopelessly expensive and bloody. That led to new tactics and new weapons. The tank, for example, was developed to counter the trenches and barbed wire. Eventually, planes became another answer to fixed defensive positions. All of these new weapons eventually led to new strategies.The Battle of Cambrai, in which the British used tanks, artillery, infantry and air power is one of the first examples of combined arms tactics.
The point to all of this is that war evolves and not always in ways that are predictable or even imaginable. Every new advance in weapons and tactics leads to responses and new weapons and tactics. The most recent example if the “little green men” that suddenly popped up in Crimea. Instead of an invading Russian army, a pro-Russian mercenary force appeared out of nowhere to lead a revolt against Ukrainian control of the region. It was, to a great degree, an example of Fourth Generation Warfare.
A question to ponder is what happens when energy weapons become a practical response to ballistic missiles and drones? The US military has been making steady progress developing mobile laser systems, able to knock out ballistic missiles. They are a decade away from anything usable, but it is not unrealistic to imagine a time in the near future when it is possible to knock out incoming missiles. This sort of technology has a funny way of advancing quickly after it gets deployed.
Of course, a weapon that can render another weapon obsolete is a very dangerous weapon. The reason ground-based, anti-missile systems are such a sensitive subject is because they throw off the balance of arms and require a response. A missile defense system in Europe, that could plausibly knock down Russian missiles, would require the Russians to make a lot more missiles, in addition to other plans to counter this new weapon. That’s a big unknown so everyone treads lightly.
Logically, the sudden advance in military technology 100 years ago, along with the lethality of the new technology, should have made war less likely. Cannonballs and bayonet charges are terrible things, but they pale in comparison to massed machine gun fire on advancing infantry. It would seem blazingly obvious that unless you have an answer for the machine gun, much less the new artillery, you don’t willingly go to war. That’s not what happened. Two great industrial wars latter and the West was just about dead.
That’s an important lesson to keep in mind while thinking about what’s happening with military technology, as well as military strategy. Laser weapons may be a ways off, but drone technology is here and changing how we fight wars. A sky full of flying death robots, capable of working in concert or independently, to bring death to an enemy is going to change how nations go to war. It means new weapons and new ways of fighting. Even the Arabs are adapting to drone warfare. Imagine what the Chinese are doing.
Of course, the new responses do not have to be strictly military. The Million Mohammedan March into Europe surely included jihadis willing to die for Allah. Maybe some of those jihadis were trained by Syria, at the behest of Russia. If you are Russia, you have to be looking at the truck attacks and thinking that could be an effective weapon. If you cannot win the technology fight, maybe the answer lies in some other area of the battlefield. New technology may result in a proliferation of asymmetric warfare waged by state actors.
It’s fun to speculate, but flying death robots alone change the way the world will be fighting wars in the future. Things like carriers can quickly become white elephants in a world where a swarm or drones can fall out of the sky or come up from the depths of the ocean. Everyone forgets about the coming proliferation of a independently controlled torpedoes that can literally roam the ocean looking for targets. The microprocessor goes from being a force multiplier to a force nullifier.
It would be nice if the proliferation of killing machines worked as a deterrent to war, but that is not the lesson of history. The one exception has been nuclear weapons, which probably kept the the Soviets from invading Europe and the US from systematically undermining the Russian government, as we see going on today. The new technology does not promise to destroy the world so it probably will not be much of a deterrent. If anything, as we have seen with the neocon warmongering, it will make everyone reckless.