The Evolution of US Military Weaponry
The weaponry of the United States military has evolved significantly from the inception of this nation to the modern day, always reflecting American hallmarks of innovation and ingenuity. From the times of the colonial rebellion against the English crown to achievement of the status of global superpower, the United States has sought to be a leader in military strategy and technology.
The American Revolution proved to be the US military’s first conflict, and it certainly was anything but traditional. Inferior to the British forces in both number and quality, American commanders found it necessary to rely on other factors to gain the edge on the battlefield. Taking advantage of the process of scoring the inside of musket barrels, or rifling, colonial sharpshooters became the scourge of British officers. The precursor to the modern day sniper, these soldiers had a tremendous negative effect on enemy morale and organization. The Americans also employed the first submarine to ever be used for military purposes, known as the “Turtle.” Designed to hold a single operator, this new form of weaponry was largely unsuccessful in its attempt to sink a British warship executing a blockade in New York harbor.
The years leading up to the American Civil War saw a surge in the use of rifled muskets, with the problems of rate of fire and ease of use largely overcome. The development of the revolver, especially the various Colt models of the 1850s, gave the regular US infantrymen a tremendous advantage in firepower. This superiority in technology greatly contributed to the defeat of the Southern armies, who were faced by US troops armed with Springfield rifles and more accurate artillery pieces. Appearing at the tail end of the conflict was a terrifying new weapon known as the Gatling gun. Largely viewed as the grandfather of the modern day machine gun, this new arm was capable of firing dozens of rounds in succession without reloading.
The US military in the post Civil War period faced the problems of pacifying the Native Americans of the West, as well as attaining the status of a global power. The Winchester repeating rifle contributed greatly to these efforts, including a clash with Spain in 1898. This weapon again increased the firepower of the individual foot soldier, allowing the user to fire a maximum of 30 rounds per minute. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, the US military began to consider the bolt action system as a necessary improvement to its standard infantry rifle.
The US military entered the First World War equipped with the Springfield bolt action rifle and an American classic, the Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol. These weapons proved durable and reliable, backed up by the full power of the American industrial infrastructure. The Second World War saw the need for even more firepower at the squad level, necessitating the development of semiautomatic weapons, sub-machine guns, and heavier artillery weapons. This conflict saw the largest advances in new technology, most notably deadlier aircraft and armored vehicles. The US military led the way in these categories with the P-51 Mustang fighter, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and a host of wheeled and tracked vehicles designed for mass production.
The latter half of the twentieth century saw the development of more advanced aircraft and tank production, as well as sophisticated small arms. The emergence of the jet engine and the helicopter revolutionized the world of aerial combat and ground support operations. Coming full circle to the modern era, the US military now takes advantage of the advent of stealth technology, drone aircraft, advanced body armor, and the option of nuclear weaponry.
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