Innovation can take many forms: Today’s computers are faster. Space travel is cheaper. Artificial intelligence is smarter than ever before. The military is … well …
While the details on Intel’s latest processors or LG’s new OLED technology remain a simple Google search away, the uniquely secretive processes of the United States military make it tough to know what’s truly cutting edge. Much of the work happens behind closed doors, and even when an innovation is made public, layers of classified details often prevent us from ever knowing the full story. We may learn about battery-powered exoskeletons for soldiers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), or real-life railguns that shoot hunks of metal at blistering speed, but the projects we don’t learn about may be even wilder.
So what has true military innovation looked like over the past decade? How are our soldiers equipped today? And what should we expect a decade from now? Are our armed forces really as advanced as Tom Clancy novels would have you believe, or is reliance on an antiquated procurement process dramatically holding it back? What would military technology look like if a company like Apple or Microsoft were in charge?
To understand it all, you’ll need to step back more than 10 years, to one fateful day in 2001, to witness the genesis of modern conflict, and the technology the military uses to fight it.
New enemy, new strategies
In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, then-U.S. President George W. Bush took less than a month to declare war on Osama bin Laden’s militant Sunni Islamist organization, al-Qaida. A coordinated attack that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, 9/11 heralded a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy that would send ripples throughout our country’s armed forces for years.