Discover more about the world’s military units and the weapons that they use. Find out more about the special forces that have become the world’s elite fighting forces.
A military is an organization authorised by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. As an adjective the term “military” is also used to refer to any property or aspect of a military. Militaries often function as societies within societies, by having their own military communities, economies, education, medicine and other aspects of a functioning civilian society.
The profession of soldiering as part of a military group is older than recorded history itself. Some of the most enduring images of the classical antiquity portray the power and feats of its military leaders. The Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC was one of the defining points of Pharaoh Ramesses II’s reign and is celebrated in bas-relief on his monuments. A thousand years later the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, was so determined to impress the gods with his military might that he was buried with an army of terracotta soldiers. The Romans were dedicated to military matters, leaving to posterity many treatises and writings as well as a large number of lavishly carved triumphal arches and victory columns.
In the modern era, world wars and countless other major conflicts have changed the employment of the militaries beyond recognition to their ancient participants. Empires have come and gone; states have grown and declined (such as the fall of the Roman Empire). Enormous social changes have been wrought, and military power continues to dominate international relations. The role of the military today is as central to global societies as it ever was.
The first recorded use of military in English, spelled militarie, was in 1585. It comes from the Latin militaris (from Latin miles meaning “soldier”) but is of uncertain etymology, one suggestion being derived from *mil-it- – going in a body or mass The word is now identified as denoting someone that is skilled in use of weapons, or engaged in military service or in warfare.
As a noun the military usually refers generally to a country’s armed forces or sometimes, more specifically, to the senior officers who command them. In general it refers to the physicality of armed forces, their personnel, equipment, and physical area which they occupy.
As an adjective military originally applied only to soldiers and soldiering, but it soon broadened to apply to land forces in general and anything to do with their profession. The names of both the Royal Military Academy (1741) and United States Military Academy (1802) reflect this. However, at about the time of Napoleonic Wars “military” begun to be applied to armed forces as a whole and in the 21st century expressions like “military service”, “military intelligence” and “military history” reflect this broader meaning. As such, it now connotes any activity performed by the military personnel.
The primary reason for the existence of the military is to engage in combat, should it be required to do so by the national defense policy, and to win. This represents an organizational goal of any military, and the primary focus for military thought through military history.
The “show” of military force has been a term that referred as much to military force projection, as to the units such as regiments or gunboats deployed in a particular theatre, or as an aggregate of such forces. In the Gulf War the United States Central Command controlled military forces (units) of each of the four military services of the United States. How victory is achieved, and what shape it assumes is studied by most, if not all, military groups on three levels.
Military strategy is the management of forces in wars and military campaigns by a commander-in-chief employing large military forces either national and allied as a whole, or the component elements of armies, navies and air forces such as army groups, fleets and large numbers of aircraft. Military strategy is a long-term projection of belligerents’ policy with a broad view of outcome implications, including outside the concerns of military command. Military strategy is more concerned with the supply of war and planning, then management of field forces and combat between them. The scope of Strategic military planning can span weeks, but is more often months or even years.
Operational mobility is, within warfare and military doctrine, the level of command which coordinates the minute details of tactics with the overarching goals of strategy. A common synonym is operational art.
The operational level is at a scale bigger than one where line of sight and the time of day are important, and smaller than the strategic level, where production and politics are considerations. Formations are of the operational level if they are able to conduct operations on their own, and are of sufficient size to be directly handled or have a significant impact at the strategic level. This concept was pioneered by the German army prior to and during the Second World War. At this level planning and duration of activities takes from one week to a month, and are executed by Field Armies and Army Corps and their naval and air equivalents.
Military tactics concerns itself with the methods for engaging and defeating an enemy in direct combat. Military tactics are usually used by units over hours or days, and are focused on the specific, close proximity tasks and objectives of squads, companies, battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions and their naval and air equivalents.
One of the oldest military publications is The Art of War by the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu. Written in the 6th century BCE, the 13-chapter book is intended as military instruction and not as military theory, but has had a huge influence on Asian military doctrine, and from the late 19th century, on European and United States military planning. It has even been used to formulate business tactics, and can even be applied in social and political areas
The Classical Greeks and the Romans wrote prolifically on military campaigning. Among the best-known Roman works are Julius Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic Wars and the Roman Civil war – written about 50 BC.
Two major works on tactics come from the late Roman period: Taktike Theoria by Aelianus Tacticus and De Re Militari (“On military matters”) by Vegetius. Taktike Theoria examined Greek military tactics, and was most influential in the Byzantine world and during the Golden Age of Islam.
De Re Militari formed the basis of European military tactics until the late 17th century. Perhaps its most enduring maxim is Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (let he who desires peace prepare for war).
Due to the changing nature of combat with the introduction of artillery in the European Middle Ages, and infantry firearms in the Renaissance, attempts were made to define and identify those strategies, grand tactics and tactics that would produce a victory more often than that achieved by the Romans in praying to the gods before the battle.
Later this became known as Military Science, and later still would adopt the scientific method approach to the conduct of military operations under the influence of the Industrial Revolution thinking. In his seminal book On War the Prussian Major-General and leading expert on modern military strategy Carl von Clausewitz defined military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war.” According to Clausewitz strategy forms the plan of the War, and to this end it links together the series of acts which are to lead to the final decision, that is to say, it makes the plans for the separate campaigns and regulates the combats to be fought in each.
Hence, Clausewitz placed political aims above military goals, ensuring civilian control of the military. Military strategy was one of a triumvirate of “arts” or “sciences” that governed the conduct of warfare, the others being: military tactics, the execution of plans and manœuvering of forces in battle, and maintenance of an army.
The meaning of military tactics has changed over time from the deployment and manoeuvreing of entire land armies on the fields of ancient battles, and galley fleets, to modern use of small unit ambushes, encirclements, bomb and bombardment attacks, frontal assaults, air assaults, hit-and-run tactics used mainly by guerilla forces and, in some cases, suicide attacks on land and at sea. Evolution of aerial warfare introduced its own air combat tactics. Often, military deception, in the form of military camouflage or misdirection using decoys, is used to confuse the enemy as a tactic.
A major development in infantry tactics came with the increased use of trench warfare in the 19th and 20th century. This was mainly employed in World War I in the Gallipoli campaign and the Western Front. Trench warfare often turned to a stalemate, only broken by a large loss of life, because in order to attack an enemy entrenchment soldiers had to run through an exposed “no man’s land” under heavy fire from an entrenched enemy.