The ‘revolution in military affairs’ (RMA) as an analytical tool for the interpretation of military history

Azar Gat*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The conspicuous changes that have taken place in the face of warfare over the past decades have been titled: the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA). The problem with this label, however, is that it tells us nothing about the nature of the revolution and its place in the broader context of technology-driven revolutions of the industrial-technological age. These have been nothing less than the defining developments of modernity. Over the past two centuries innovation in technology accelerated dramatically in comparison to pre-industrial times, with military technology constituting merely one aspect of a general trend. In pre-modern times, too, technology mattered, and some innovations in military technology profoundly affected warfare and history in general. Metal weapons, equestrian technology, the longbow, the rowing and sailing ships, and firearms are oft-cited examples, and there are many more. And yet, technology improved slowly in the pre-modern era, so that something close to equilibrium often prevailed for millennia between each significant ‘punctuation’ in the evolution of military technology. The main infantry weapon, the musket, changed little between 1690 and 1820. However, from the beginning of the industrial-technological era, as military theorist J. F. C. Fuller saw, the pace of technological innovation became such that the best armed force of one generation would have been totally unable to confront in the open a well-equipped opponent of the following generation. As Fuller equally saw, the advances in military technology were closely related to civilian developments; neither took place evenly over time nor across the technological front, but were mainly clustered around consecutive breakthroughs in a number of sectors each time.1 Taking decades to run their course, these technological breakthroughs then gave way to other breakthroughs in different sectors. Although some oversimplification is necessarily involved, Fuller rightly identified three such major revolutionary waves of civil-military technological change during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary Military Innovation
Subtitle of host publicationBetween Anticipation and Adaption
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781136282768
ISBN (Print)9780415523363
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012


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