If there was access to more advanced material sciences (such as polymers, metallurgy, plastics, and ceramics), what new developments in weapons technology could we see that can be as paradigm changing to warfare as, say, smokeless powder or the advent of the assault rifle?

What possible technology that we have an understanding, one that can make personal firearms much more effective in combat, but can't be implemented effectively because of lack of special materials that meet requirements like heat tolerance, strength, conductivity, etc.


closed as too broad by Mołot, Frostfyre, Gryphon, NofP, JBH Jan 22 at 0:39

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ From help center we learn that you should avoid asking subjective questions where you are asking an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?” All WB questions have an element of fishing-for-ideas, but you should be asking a specific question. This is very vague. Given any possible improvement in material, what possible improvements can be had for a gun? Vague, broad, and POB. Do you have a speicific question? If you specifically define the attributes of the new material, then we have something specific to work with. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 21 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ This is, literally, a whole field of research in this question. Voted too broad. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 21 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Molot there are actually several fields of research based on this question (it starts with metallurgy and other material fields and then moves to all technology) so yes, far, far too broad and needs to narrow down to one field (and maybe even if we are looking at the ammo, and if material needs to even be used as ammo, or the weapon) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 21 at 14:19

With enough advances in sensors, AI and miniaturization you could have "smart bullets", bullets than can change course and track a target. That would be like firing tiny guided cruise missiles from your firearm.

DARPA is already working on it

In the tests, an experienced marksman "repeatedly hit moving and evading targets," a DARPA statement said.

  • Incremental improvements in chemical-combusion small arms.
    Caseless ammunition was developed decades ago, but the advantages were insufficient to replace existing stockpiles. Some things that increase effectiveness.

  • Liquid-propellant small arms.
    Those were experimented with for large-caliber artillery. Advanced technology could make them viable for small arms.

  • Electrothermal-chemical small arms.
    Again are limited to large-caliber prototypes right now.
  • Electromag small arms.
    Either railguns or coilguns could become available as small arms.

But that is simply "more dakka" ...

  • Guided rifle-caliber rounds.
    Smart ammo is down to HMG caliber. Moderately better tech could give homing assault rifle rounds.
  • Autonomous armed robots. Again that is being developed. Probably more a software issue than a materials science issue right now.

Those would bring a battlefield filled with lethal threats which are not directly aimed by a human. The operators sit in some headquarters, or hunker down behind cover, and the weapon goes into harm's way.


Lasers... its basically the only real path we have left. Guns are great. Missiles are great. ICBM keep everyone in line. But lasers, thats going to be the next big step.

Instant, accurate destruction. A properly calibrated and powered laser base station should be able to intercept any incoming missiles in its field of view with pinpoint accuracy.

Satellite based lasers would allow you to kill any person in the world who could see the sky in the blink of an eye. No explosions or casualties. One precise beam with a couple millimeters of inaccuracy would be enough to ensure that no one lifts a finger at you.

As a bonus, if they are hiding undergound, just back the ground using a wide beam, heating the area until it becomes unlivable and everything is fried.

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    $\begingroup$ Such a laser base floating in space could itself easily be destroyed from a ground based laser. But I like the idea of ICBM not being a threat anymore. $\endgroup$ – Fred Jan 21 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ Using this for calculation: insidescience.org/news/how-far-can-laser-light-travel using a 165 nanometer wavelength, a whopping 50m of size for the sattelite dish and 800km height from the earth the sattelite would still light up a 3.5m spot. As this site mentions (slate.com/news-and-politics/2013/04/…) a 20kW laser wouldnt kill you quickly... And your space-based 50m large laser dish would need to output at least 70kw to make sure it still did 20kw when it hits the ground. Seems an aweful lot of waste. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jan 21 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ until energy shields (large scale) and then personal shields are made in response to this then the next thing will be super-accelerated particles and material....then partial shields will be made and ......personally I've seen a few ideas on where we will next go with projectile weapons and Lasers are defintely one option (but not the only one or even the only viable one) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 21 at 14:16

So, what are some of the current paradigms in warfare? Recent history would show us that the era of reasonably equally-matched opposing forces has finished - all recent conflicts have been highly asymmetric and their nature goes a long way toward defining modern warfare. Another 'type' of conflict that rose up during the cold war was large scale espionage - and that's still happening. In the case of asymmetric warfare, how would advances in material sciences change warfare? At the cutting-edge, it could protect occupying forces by the way of better armour (both personal and vehicular). At the other end of the scale, cheaper and more easily producable weapons makes a guerilla war easier to prosecute. We're already on the path of drone warfare, material advances will increase the durability, range and capabilities of UAVs. While an occupying force may use very high tech drones, we're already seeing drones used to deliver explosives in terror-attacks. Both in terrorism and in espionage, material advancement will allow for harder to detect weapons, and for novel applications of existing weapons.

I think, looking at what I've written, material science advancements, alongside other technological advancement might spell the end of the battlefield as we know it. Violence will, increasingly, be able to made via remote control, far away from the front lines. Infantry will still need to hold ground, but are likely to be increasingly vulnerable to those controlling unmanned weapons systems.


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