In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Defense Industries

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Intelligence Resources
  • National Procurement Systems
  • Early Modern Period
  • 19th Century
  • 21st Century

Military History Defense Industries
Aaron Plamondon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0036


The improvements in the industrialization of weapons and equipment production have altered the way wars have been fought throughout history. Those nations that adopted better processes and were able to better equip their militaries often had the advantage on the battlefield. From the first mass production of bows and arrows, to the Industrial Revolution, to the creation of the modern-day military–industrial complex, the innovations in the ability to produce new technologies have caused a drastic increase in the number of casualties during wartime. One of the first examples of this was the American Civil War, where the industrial capabilities of the North and its ability to exploit key weapons, such as the breech-loading rifle, gave it a distinct advantage over the Confederate South. The creation of new weapons, such as the Gatling gun, offered a prescient look into the future of modern warfare. The developments in artillery and rifles were watched closely by the general staffs in Europe, especially Prussia, which embraced technological innovations and began to implement them in the field against its enemies, in its defeat first of Austria in 1866 and then France in 1870–1871. Innovations continued as the machine gun entered service near the end of the 1800s and was used in the Boer War to great effectiveness. It was also used in the Russo–Japanese War of 1905. Unfortunately, those who analyzed this conflict came to the wrong conclusions regarding the weapon. The Japanese victories over the machine gun–equipped Russian army led strategists to mistakenly believe that a soldier’s superior morale could defeat technological superiority. Unfortunately, it was not yet clear that if these technologies, such as the machine gun and artillery, were mass produced through effective industrial adaptation and blanketed the battlefield, no amount of human flesh could overcome them. France learned this lesson in 1914 and nearly lost an entire generation to the new ways of war, defined by mass machine gun and artillery use. But the French were not alone. All nations were confronted with a new type of war, and power began to be measured in how efficient a nation’s defense industrial capability had become. World War II only reinforced this reality. It can easily be argued that the Allies won based largely on the industrial production of the United States. It certainly led to the total defeat—and near destruction—of Japan. Although the atomic and subsequent nuclear arms industries have been central to nations’ investments in their military, this article focuses purely on conventional arms and their respective industries. The focus is on the Western industrial powers such as those in Europe and North America, but Russia and Asia, as well as the Third World, are also addressed.

General Overviews

Few works attempt the overwhelming task of looking at defense industries as a whole, but Todd 1988 can provide solid information for the beginning student. See Hall 1997 for a more technological overview.

  • Hall, Bert S. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    Combines technical analysis of how weapons changed over time, with chapters relating technological changes to developments in the conduct of war, particularly on the battlefield. Especially good on the chemistry and physics of gunpowder and gunpowder weapons.

  • Todd, Daniel. Defence Industries: A Global Perspective. London: Routledge, 1988.

    A highly detailed classification, including considerable tabular material, on the world’s defense industries and the companies that contribute to the international defense market. The work is both historical and comparative and includes an assessment of international defense spending policies of developed and developing nations.

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