Our protagonist civilization is based on a large island in the middle of the pacific(think half the size of Australia), has a population of 100 million, has abundant resources and is totally self-sufficient, and has only 1 million personnel, but has the equivalent military technology of today's USA. They have 1000 planes, 1000 tanks, enough weaponry for everyone, and basically infinite ammunition. No nukes, and they have the USS Gerald Ford and approximately 5 destroyers and 10 frigates.

The enemy nation is based in what is now Asia, and has 1 billion population and 35 million personnel, but only have 1800s level tech. They have little to no naval power (think maybe a couple ironclads), and have rifles, revolvers, and horses.

If it's possible, what is the best way for the advanced military to defeat the enemy?

Note: assume all citizens of the primitive society will fight to the death for their nation.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming that everybody will fight to death is a strange setting. In that setting what do you mean with "defeat the enemy"? Kill everybody? $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Let's see: Modern technology vs. 1600s - I guess you haven't read the 1632 series yet. Read it and then, when you come back in a few months (there are a lot of books to read), revise your question. Don't worry about no libraries - not sure exactly how to get it, but it is basically open-source - I got a CD with one of the books that included several more, etc. You won't be disappointed, though your family may miss you for hours at a time. $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2020 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ The protagonist country is an island with abundant resources and self-sufficiency. This gives them very little reason to ever attack. The other country has no naval power. So how would they go about attacking an island? The more advanced nation can literally "win" by basically doing nothing since they have nothing to gain by going to war and the other country has no real ability to launch an attack. $\endgroup$
    – David Cram
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Define "defeat". Does the island nation seek to conquer Asia? Or merely to defend themselves from attack? What is their objective? $\endgroup$
    – workerjoe
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 19:43

21 Answers 21


Some really solid answers already. I agree with another comment - how could they not win? But I’ll give some details on how. What is the best way for the advanced military to defeat the enemy?

Enemy Analysis 35 million personnel

  • Degrade there concentration of force by separating troops, i.e. targeting multiple locations so they split up.
  • Target their command and control (imagine how hard it is to co-ord 35 million.)
  • Target heavy logistical chain (draw troops away from supply lines, target stockpiles)

but only have 1800s level tech.

  • Psy Ops, pamphlet drop on troops highlight the tech differences.
  • Body Armour and Tanks 100% invulnerable
  • Close Medical Support for limited injuries.
  • Expose limited logistical methods (trains/horses etc)

Rifles, revolvers, and horses.

  • Engage highly mobile warfare to expose limits of horses
  • Employ more heavy weapons (Machine Guns, Grenade Lunches, Grenades) within the basic military unit.

Friendly Analysis

1 million personnel, but has the equivalent military technology of today's USA.

  • Avoid large battle, strike hard at key points (Command Nodes, logistical centers, small enemy groups) and withdraw

They have 1000 planes, 1000 tanks, enough weaponry for everyone, and basically infinite ammunition.

  • Use planes for recon, targeting enemy prior to ground fighting.
  • Use helicopters for mobility into battle and redeployment out.
  • Use Planes to destroy the enemy navy.

They have the USS Gerald Ford and approximately 5 destroyers and 10 frigates.

How I would do it

Air-warfare Phase

  1. Destroy Navy
  2. Recon Enemy nation
  3. Bombing Targets (Command Centers, Logistical Nodes, Train lines, bridges, troop concentration)

Shaping Operations.

  1. Small Raiding parties at lightly defended areas, force the enemy to spread their superior numbers out. (Helicopter mobility)
  2. Commence Psy Ops, on the technological over match, and inevitability of defeat.

Seize the initiative

  1. Focus on cutting enemy resupply with raiding forces.
  2. Start to take territory from lightly defended areas, focus on smaller enemy formations that can't overwhelm you.
  3. Use a tank heavy army, to strike hard and withdraw against the enemy (blitzkrieg) in the country side.


  1. Surround remaining enemy position (that have high enemy concentrations) use Aircraft, artillery, tanks to continue to bomb them.
  2. Bait a now desperate enemy into engagement areas, and prepared defensive areas. (Withdraw if it enemy to overwhelm you.)
  3. Don't enter cities, bombard them.


  1. Demand unconditional surrender / intern entire civilian population.

Note: assume all citizens of the primitive society will fight to the death for their nation Modern warfare is all about convincing your enemy the war is now pointless and to accept defeat. You idea undercuts a lot of modern military thinking.

  • $\begingroup$ Is PhyOps supposed to mean psychological operations or something else? $\endgroup$
    – Davo
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Yep. psychological operations (ill edit the post) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ At 1800s level tech, wouldn't all you need to do is fly by with some bombers and bomb a city to smithereens, declaring yourself the Army of God, here to exercise His Will? After all, 1899 tech people haven't developed such advanced flight yet, a mere sonic boom will blow their socks off $\endgroup$
    – Raestloz
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Yes, you probably won by the time bombing campaign is done. But question was how it would be done. 2. Still would plan for a more resilient enemy, each phase planned to minimize casualties. 3. Modern bombing is about knocking out key systems (AA, C2, Road Networks), not sure if bombing to kill everyone is most effective (probably safest). 4 You need to physical take terrain, to clear out the enemy. People can survive in rubble of destroyed city. 5. Cutting of supplies; defeating small garrison will have other effects you might not get from bombing (starvation, despair etc) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 10:54

There are a lot of bad answers here that mainly seem to come out of a few pervasive myths about European colonialism. There is no need to go around killing the natives at a ratio sufficient to match their relative population. There is barely any need to fight the natives at all. Naval or ranged bombardment is neither necessary nor all that effective in the first place. Trying to spread religious rumors, trying to convince the natives that the invaders are gods, or timing the arrival with a solar eclipse will not work (native people are not stupid). Taking native political leaders hostage can momentarily destabilize central governments, but won’t get you very far towards exerting meaningful control on the ground.

What you do (and this is what the Spanish did in the New World) is you simply convince various subgroups of natives that they are better off following you, and not the existing native authorities. In any large society, there will be no shortage of disgruntled interest groups, and many of them are just waiting for an icebreaker to come along and give them a chance to gain an advantage. You approach local leaders, offer them slightly more autonomy than they currently enjoy, offer them weapons or even just transportation, and most importantly, you tell them that you are also talking to other local leaders about the same idea, so that if they decide to revolt, they won’t be doing it alone. Your goal is not to subjugate the natives, your goal is to be as helpful as possible so that they (or at least the leaders) will literally be inviting you into the country.

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    $\begingroup$ Considering the enemy has an army of 35 million people with only 1600's technology, the sheer logistic cost of that army will make a lot of local rulers very unhappy. This is a technology level at which 90% of adults are expected to work in the fields. With high infant mortality, a large number of those billion people will be infants, so an army of 35 million adults is inevitably going to leave fields barren. Just threaten to invade twice in harvest times. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ It's true that the Spanish did this in South America and, later on, the British did this everywhere they went. However, I think the credit for this divide and conquer strategy must go to Julius Caesar. Once he conquered a nation, the first thing he did was to find the repressed minority (there's always one...) then elevate them, arm them and make them the Roman police. $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2020 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ America: "Thank you, France. 'love you...." (also, the credit goes to Alexander the Great: you can keep your religions; just give us your money.) $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 11:49

A lot depends on the skill and morale of both armies and the tactics employed.

There have certainly been many cases in history where a technologically superior army crushed a technologically inferior one. The European conquest of the Americas come to mind. But bear in mind that it's not a given. When the Spanish under Magellan landed in the Philippines and thought they'd easily crush the primitive natives, they were badly beaten and took heavy losses.

I read once -- and I'm afraid I don't have the citation -- that in cases of "asymmetrical warfare", i.e. where one army was clearly superior on paper, bigger, better weapons, etc, the inferior army nevertheless won the war about 1/3 of the time.

Because sure, one person with a machine gun versus one person with a wooden club, meeting in an open field where both can see each other coming from a long way off, the person with the machine gun will almost certainly win. But one person with a machine gun versus 1000 people with clubs? He might mow down many of them but they still overwhelm them by sheer numbers. And one person with a machine gun relaxing in their tent at night versus a person with a club who sneaks up on them and attacks them in their sleep, the person with the club probably wins.

If the people from the more primitive nation really are willing to fight to the last person, what's the morale of the people from the advanced nation? If they go into battle outnumbered 1000 to 1, even with their superior weapons, against a determined foe, they're likely to take heavy casualties. If the soldiers know that, sure, they'll kill 100 of the enemy for every person they lose, but in the end they're still going to die, they might decide to just drop their weapons and run.

So how to win?

The trick for the advanced army is to keep combat on the open field. If both armies are lined up and facing off in open terrain, their superior weapons give them a huge advantage. But if it turns into a guerrilla war, with the primitive army sniping them from hiding, launching surprise attacks, etc, their advantage largely evaporates.

Take steps to prevent the enemy from capturing weapons. They may not be able to make them, but if they can capture them from you they can turn them against you. And if they have time and just a few sufficiently-talented people, they can eventually duplicate at least some of the technology.

It's a lot easier for the superior army to defeat the enemy army than it is to keep control of the country afterwards. Sometimes it's "easier to win the war than to win the peace". We've seen that as recently as the US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US easily defeated the enemy armies and took over both countries. But then got bogged down in a seemingly endless guerrilla war, until they eventually declared victory and withdrew in defeat.

The biggest enemy is complacency. If the superior army thinks, "We're just going to walk in and take over. Once these yokels see our superior weapons they're going to promptly surrender", they'll probably soon find themselves retreating with heavy losses.

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    $\begingroup$ On top of this, modern army doctrine is about destroying the enemies capability to prosecute the war. Pushing through lines to attack from the sides and rear, taking out supply lines and destroying the maintenance and manufacturing of your opponents. The wide scale murder of the civilian populace is rarely cost effective or even helps you win the war (see the stragetic bombing campaigns of civilian targets during WWII). So what is the modern army going to target exactly? They will have to either bomb cities or occupy, giving ample opportunity for guerilla warfare. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ Well, if the technological disparity is large enough, they might not surrender to you, but worship you instead... $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ @nelson Unlikely. The poster says that the primitive country has 17th century technology. That puts them about 100 years before the American revolution. Do you suppose that if George Washington or John Adams had encountered 21st century technology that they would have thought the people using it were gods? The French revolution was also in the 18th century. Would Robespierre or Marat have thought such people were gods? I really doubt it. Or taking some actual 17th century people, William Harvey, Johannes Kepler, John Locke, Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, and Galileo Galilei. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ More to the point, 1 machine gun versus 50 men with clubs on an open field with clear fire lanes, the machinegun is going to inflict brutal losses. 1 machine gun crew that doesn't know the territory versus 10 natives who have lived, stalked and fought each other in the local jungle for generations... $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2020 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay The North Vietnamese military and Taliban weren't that far behind the US/USSR in terms of military technology (comparatively speaking). The NVA and Taliban both had access to pretty modern small arms- North Vietnam was even able to field some fighter jets courtesy of the USSR. They lacked a lot of the heavy equipment and organisation but they actually had the capacity to inflict noticeable casualties, allowing them to wear down their opponents over time. Men with muskets and no modern explosives, on the other hand, are going to have a very hard time fighting an asymmetric war. $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 5:22

I would argue that the modern day military would have to monumentally screw up in order to not wipe the floor with the 1600s era military, no matter how great the numerical disparity.

Chances are they would not even have to meet the enemy in the field. All it would take is a show of force with a flight of aircraft bombing their forts and government buildings- that should be more than sufficient to make it clear to the leaders of the continent that it's in their best interest to not resist. While they may not care about the lives of their citizens, the fact that you can put a 1,000lb bomb on a warlord / king's heads anywhere in the continent would make them bend their knee quick enough.

The enemy military would likely be armed with smooth bore muskets, with a range of maybe 100 yards at a pinch, and a rate of fire of maybe a couple of rounds per minute. Their weapons are less accurate, shorter ranged, much less reliable and much slower to fire. Any large formation of men marching towards them is going to be spotted days in advance by aerial reconnaissance, giving them ample time to be attacked with air support and artillery.

Consider how deadly crossing no-mans land in WW1 was. Now imagine that one side has modern weaponry, and the other side has muskets. All it would take is a couple of incredibly bloody battles for the peasants to learn that trying to fight is a death sentence, and the 1600s era nation now longer can field an army.

Most 1600s era rulers did not do a great deal for their peasantry- simply proving food and medical care to the locals would likely be more than enough to encourage them to accept the modern nation as their new rulers, especially when the alternative is to be forced in to a suicidal attack.

Edit: based on the update to the question that all citizens will fight to the death (which is rather unlikely), your only real solution is to wipe out the entire continent. The simplest approach is to destroy their food supply from afar. Invasive species being introduced to ecosystem, crop diseases would do the trick. Poisoning major rivers and contaminating the groundwater could cripple the population if the advanced nation was willing to do it. Introducing diseases in to the populace that they have no natural immunity to would also be very effective.

After a few years of famine and disease, you could probably cut the population down to a fraction of its initial size, and disrupt what industrial/military capacity it would have had. Then, steadily going from village to village and mopping up anyone left is really the only answer if every peasant insists on fighting to the death (assuming you can actually convince your military to conduct a lengthy campaign of genocide)

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    $\begingroup$ “cutting down the population down to a fraction of its initial size” is the last thing you want to do if you are trying to conquer a territory, it renders the resources of that territory inaccessible. (at which point you might as well have stayed home.) a great number of the Spanish economic reforms of the early–mid 1500s were exactly aimed at sustaining the declining native American population. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2020 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @taylorswift as per OP's question, if you assume all the citizens are going to fight to the death there isn't much use you can make of them anyway. Besides, if a nation has a modern military you can assume they'll have modern mining and extraction technologies, in which case you can outsource it to your own mining companies (which is probably going to be more effective than trying to make use of a population without any experience using modern technologies). $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Jack trying to import metropolitan labor to perform resource extraction is an incredibly difficult affair. metropolitan citizens are generally unmotivated, unhappy, and demand astronomical wages (think modern arctic oil platforms). attempts to build the panama canal twice failed for this exact reason $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2020 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ @taylorswift You make it sound like locals seem to build arctic oil platforms rather easily. I personally don't think it matters at all. Off shore oil platforms have enough inherent problems, throwing in arctic is simply icing on the cake that is now rock solid. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 2:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Tomás OP has since edited the premise of the question (after some 20 answers have already been provided). It was initially 1600s era military with muskets and horses $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 3:46

Client state.

You do not need to colonize this land to resettle your excess population. I cannot imagine the Asians are invading you. Probably you want wealth and you want to justify your military expenditures. Ideally you want the wealth without administering the territory as your own, which is hard work.

  1. You trade with the Asians, presumably. There are cities where trade goes on.

  2. An uprising in a trade city threatens your nationals. Some are killed.

  3. Your troops enter the city and put down the rebellion for the common good. You leave a garrison there to keep order.

  4. You explain to the central government that they will pay for the upkeep of your troops at a price you decide on. If they do not pay you explain to the city government that they will be responsible.

  5. Other cities also acquire a garrison of your troops and also must pay for upkeep.

Now you have a client state and a way to enforce continued payment. You have a justification to continue enriching your cronies in the military-industrial complex, and prevent them from selling their arms to the Asians (which they would already have done, of course, but your fiction). If your PR is good and your soldiers well behaved maybe the citizenry of the occupied cities will not resent you too much. You have not needed your tanks but they are in the garrisons, ready to go.

  • $\begingroup$ pretty good answer! of course, you would need to eradicate them... :) $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ eventually...... $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ The word is Imperialism. Not client State, but client elite. $\endgroup$
    – Tomás
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 23:12

I'll assume you're unwilling to resort to bio-weapons. No worries, you don't need to.

You have tanks. They are effectively invincible.

You have planes. They are invincible; the enemy literally has no way to fight against them.

You have bombs that can almost certainly obliterate whatever fortifications the enemy can throw together.

You have machine guns that can slaughter the enemy with impunity. Heck, your basic infantry weapons can kill them from well outside their effective range (only about 100 m, especially if they don't have rifling).

But you don't even need to do that. Send a few drone strikes or cruise missiles their way and claim to be a god. At their level of technology, they'll believe you. Seriously, you can cause arbitrarily large explosions anywhere you want (well, outdoors anyway), any time you want, and it isn't obvious how you're doing it. They won't be able to surrender fast enough.

Your problem isn't defeating the enemy in an engagement, it's how to garrison / manage the territory after their military has been crushed, and possibly how to deal with long-term guerilla warfare. Because you will crush their military if your own leadership is even remotely competent. Open engagement, for your enemy, is nothing short of suicidal.

  • $\begingroup$ Creative answer! not what i was lookin for, but still great! $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ What were you looking for? Seriously, the tech imbalance here is ludicrous. That said, if you literally have to fight a war of extermination, then you probably should consider breaking out the bioweapons (as in Jacks answer); it'll likely be a lot less demoralizing to your own troops than if they have to exterminate every last member of the "enemy" population in a more personal manner. Wrecking their infrastructure, especially farms, and letting famine take its course may be slightly less grotesque than more direct bio-attacks. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ a strategy, like blitzkrieg $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DatOneNerd if you want the military strategy to actually matter (as opposed to 'move to area, kill peasants, repeat'), you might want to rework the technology balance. Modern day military vs 1940s China, for example, might work as you're fighting an opponent with enough technological and logistical capacity that it's not simply just about exterminating the locals. $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ ok then, ill take the advice for later $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 20:07

Firstly do a lot of reconnaissance and find out where the large centres of population are, who the rulers are and where they live. Monitor the rulers with spies, remote sensing devices and hidden spy cams.Then start spreading rumours concerning the second coming of Christ amongst local priests backed up by some demonstrations woven into the narrative perhaps involving, lights in the sky, high altitude vapour trails and stars falling to Earth. Play on existing superstitions and wrap it up in suitable language for the 1600’s and let that permeate for a few months or years.

Then at some preordained point at a full Moon or during an eclipse make a huge demonstration of force over the capital with low flying aircraft and airships painted to look like dragons and monsters from mythology, they could fire powerful flame throwers and drop bombs designed to make as much noise as possible.

The population would be totally petrified. At the same time Special Forces paratroopers land on the kings castle over power all of the guards and take the royal family hostage. The King can probably then be manipulated to comply with anything you want if fed the right flavor of religious misinformation and a few hair-raisingly impossible feats of magic courtesy of modern technology involving film, high tech, animatronics, submarines and so on.

Then either control the country as Hernán Cortés controlled the Aztecs or failing that introduce a messiah sent from God to banish all of the demonic planes, airships and strange effects and save the people. Then let him take over.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the mention of aztecs! $\endgroup$
    – Sync
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ Hernán Cortés manipulated the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma for months eventually holding him hostage in his own palace. He only ran into trouble in the end by shear incompetence. Motecuhzoma thought he could defeat the Spanish by magical enchantments (he was a priest) but had his brother Cuitlahuac been in power instead it might well have turned out differently (he was a warrior) $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 17:02

Assuming all the citizens of the nation will fight to the death as you have stated, then you can't win. You'd have to exterminate the population.

Were I the enemy I'd fall back and fight a guerilla war, particularly urban guerilla fighting, making it too expensive for the other nation to "win" the war. Their fighters can disperse among the population, all of whom will willingly dies to protect them. Then re-emerge at a convenient time to inflict more casualties on the occupiers. Think the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but with even better local support of the insurgents, but nations that outnumber your protagonist.

They don't even need high tech. Simple hand grenades, improvised explosives, etc. You have an occupying army, Massively outnumbered by a society will to die to drive them off. That is a recipe for failure with any approach short of genocide.

Also over time some of your high tech weapons and ammo will fall into the guerilla's hands, enhancing their capabilities. IN time they would be able to manufacture simpler version of the occupiers weapons (E.g. the Sten Gun in WWII was simple enough to manufacture that resistance cells behind German lines could do so with just a couple of machined parts given to them. Not as good as a British manufactured once, but still quite deadly).

Your protagonist can win every pitched battle and likely will. They will just never be able to hold the ground without exterminating the population.

That does of course give you fertile ground for how the war affects the home nation and its perception of itself, if you wish to make that part of your story.


Since you are low on manpower, use the manpower of the enemy country against them.

Find powerful political figures and military generals within the enemy country who are hungry for power and willing to work with you.

Next, wait till the enemy government is in session and use cruise missiles to blow up their capitol buildings and military headquarters in a simultaneous strike.

Next use predator drones to assassinate the enemy military generals or other leaders who were not in the capitol building.

After that your chosen generals and politicians will step in and take control of the country. You can then rule using them as your proxies.

Whenever someone opposes your proxies, use snipers to take them out from afar.

I would also like to add, in the case where there are battles.

Fight battles at night: You have night vision goggles and they don't. That gives you a huge advantage in the dark.

Fight battles from far away: Your weapons easily out-range them. If you can use your superior standoff range to keep the enemy back they can't do any damage to your army in an open field.

Use air power: They don't have anything that can hit you if you are up high enough.


The short answer is artillery. With no "navy" to speak of, they can't perform a "Dunkirk". Use advanced technology (tanks, APCs) and air support to herd and pin the enemy against the coast, then annihilate them with artillery from land or offshore.


Establish 10 km beachheads at desolate locations. Since the enemy has no navy, this will be easy. Then before reinforcements arrive, dig trenches around and build runways in each of the beachheads. Whenever they send troops, they will be destroyed by machine guns, plane strafing, and artillery. The planes should primarily be used for surveillance- whenever there is a lapse in the movement of enemy troops to counter the beachheads, advance as far as possible and dig new trench lines. Now, they have several ways to try to counter you:

  • They can build countercastles, castles on top of hills that allow them to attack your land with cannons and trebuchets. Take these out with planes and paratroopers.

    • They probably will adopt scorched-earth tactics, so most of your planes will be needed for supply drops, rather than combat.

    • Likewise the fairly small navy will also be mostly used for supply. The Gerald Ford will need to sit in the middle of the ocean to refuel traveling supply planes. As the enemy can't do anything against your ships, there's no point in having flotillas- use some of the destroyers to bombard the parts of the coast you haven't occupied yet and demoralize the enemy.

    • If they are smart, they will probably retreat most of their forces inland to construct walls and trenches before you reach them. So, its critical that planes surveil as much as possible to identify any construction of defensive works in order to destroy them in later bombing runs.



An enemy is only defeated at the point they accept defeat; ruling a continent-sized land mass with 1bn people who are in open rebellion is totally impossible irrespective of your military and technological capability. Your technological state will likely have to go city to city, or state to state and 'persuade' the leaders to accept their new masters. At this point it's worth considering what the techy-overlords actually want, income/resouces/loot from a conquered land, a new place to settle their citizens, religious control, ethical/political overhaul?

From recent US history some examples show technological superiority is a patchy indicator of military success:

  • Success: Japan 1945
  • "Mission Accomplished": Iraq
  • "Others": Vietnam, Afghanistan

Starve them out!

Assuming that you are willing to play dirty, all you have to do is:

  1. Disrupt (burn) their means of food production (farms / fishing boats)
  2. Prevent external supply chains, either by force or threat of force. Sink supply ships, air strikes on caravans etc.
  3. Watch your enemy starve. It has been long said that an army marches on its stomach, the bigger the army the larger the stomach.
  4. At some point your army will be larger than theirs.
  • $\begingroup$ This is the answer I wanted to post too. Wars are won or lost by superior logistics. The bigger the army, the more fragile their logistics. On the other hand, a more high-tech army requires more complex logistics. But it also has more tools to provide those.On the other hand, medieval armies had little need for sophisticated supply lines, because they mostly lived off the land (just plundered from civilians, no matter where they were). $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ "1800s level tech" -> no airstrikes or sinking ships. Supply chains are internal in the country since they are self sufficient. So hard to cut them unless you are able to get on to the island. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2020 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ViktorMellgren you need to reread the original post, the enemy has 1800's tech, the protagonist nation has 1000 planes similar to current US military. So go ahead and fly planes around the border and napalm the inland farms. $\endgroup$
    – Mathaddict
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I did need to reread, thanks :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2020 at 7:29


Bioweapons are the obvious answer. You drop a few virus bombs or aerial sprays that you have vaccines for and decimate the enemy population. There is no radiation or chemicals to clean up and your people are immune to it. No infrastructure is damaged and people with 1800 levels of tech have no real defence.

It's the perfect weapon. Ethically as black as hell but warfare doesn't worry about morals. Even if you don't want to invade and take over, the enemy won't want to go near you for fear of what you can do.

There is nothing like Ebola and bleeding from every orifice to strike fear into the enemy.


It won't be a battle, it'll be a Slaughter.

From a defensive POV

Let me explain, the advanced nation is 100% safe. Basically, the advanced nation won't be affected, at all. The enemy lacks an airforce, so they can't project their influence aerially. And let's talk realistically, a few ironclads aren't going to stand a half-decent chance against 5 destroyers, they'll be vaporized before they can even see destroyers. The destroyers could probably run them over.

Therefore, defense is not much of a problem. Any attacks will be dealt with long before they can even reach the mainland.

From an offensive POV

I'm not going to consider dirty tactics, because honestly, it's not necessary. What I would do is take out their navy with a couple of bombers. Then, keep the USS Gerald just close enough to the primitives so that your drones and stealth recon aircraft have enough range for a few reconnaissance missions. You could also use satellite pictures since a lot of the technology you mentioned needs satellite navigation and photography as a prerequisite. Now find their armories and weapons manufacturing areas, bomb them with your bombers. Then use drones (if you have them) to eliminate their leaders. Then take out the rest of the warriors with airstrikes.


Now let's focus on taking out any rebels, which is everybody (mass extinction). Since you said that they won't surrender, the only option to get rid of all resistance. Send in a Special Forces unit, load one of them with fake information, all analog, since the primitives won't be able to decipher digital information and may kill him. There should be a map with clearly illustrated diagrams that show your base in a specific region, preferably one where you need to go through a valley/canyon/gorge to get to it. The more passages/canyons that lead up to it the better, like so: Map Bridges/narrow passages above deep gorges are good too. The only important thing is that it has to be narrow and very long.

Now, bring all of your carriers, ships, and planes, along with your army to the closest possible distance from the shore without being within visual range. Your SF unit will go to this location (here's where the recon comes in handy) and will set up a base with campfires, lights, and everything. They will conspicuously stay there for a week so as to not arouse suspicions in the next stage. Now send the SF operatives out into the forest, specifically trying to be captured. There should be 5 other operatives following the captured operatives. They should wait outside the rebel base. Once the rebels interpret the info (if they don't know how, order the operatives, who should be fluent in the local language, to give them the information. Once the majority of the rebels set out and are out of earshot. The free operatives will take out those who stayed behind and will free the captured operatives. Before the expedition, the operatives would have set charges in the gorge so that it collapses when the charges detonate, Park several attack helicopters above the gorge, this should be done long before the rebels arrive, and the helos should be camouflaged carefully. From the helo, send out several snipers and infantrymen with heavy machine guns and RPGs, again, all camouflaged. From here you can go two ways.

i. Once the rebels arrive and all of them (the vast majority) enter the gorge, blow the charges. Then start up the helos and get the snipers to fire at any survivors, with data from the helos' thermal imaging. Use missiles and machine guns to eliminate everyone else.

ii. Wait until everyone exits the gorges. Then blow the gorges, so they have no escape. Now use HMGs, RPGs, snipers, and missiles to deal with the rest.

(The Dark Part) - Extermination

After that move all the attack ships, destroyers, and carriers, that we kept near the shore into their final position, 1 mile from the shore, so that nobody can climb aboard.

Then, put all your troops on the ground and set up strategically placed bases and camps around the primitive nation. Start bringing fuel and other resources to the p.n. (primitive nation). Bring in the helos and start a nation-wide thermal imaging campaign. Once you've found the rebels, send in the infantry and a few helos for good measure. After you finish with a rebel base, monitor it for a few days, then call in an airstrike if you see any rebel movement.

You are almost done, start a bombing campaign at all the known rebel locations. Also, stop all movement in and out of the country with heavily armed checkpoints.

One Important Thing

Of course, all of this is pointless if you're willing to bomb them back to the stone age with a full-on bombing campaign, and then sending in the army to finish the job.

Congrats, you've successfully wiped out a race! (I do not promote or encourage this idea in real life)

The Smart Way

All of this could be avoided if you infiltrated their ranks as friendlies over the years, pretending to promote technological advancements, but really sabotaging them every step of the way.

Then one day, declare war. When they come to attack with all their might, turn the sabotaged tech against them and watch them bomb themselves back to the stone age. While your people watch from their couches with a Coca-Cola in hand.

The End.

Hope this helps!


Most answers focus on tactics, but following this approach will end up in long costly and asymmetric warfare. Secondly, with 1 million personal and the amount of material, you have almost no combattant, in the modern army for one man with a gun you have more than 10 men providing support and logistic, it goes even, worse with mechanized and aeroplanes. With a very conservative estimate of 1 combattant for 10 men, you end up with less than 100.000 fighters. Sure you can bomb them to death and in open warfare engagement, you will slaughter your opponent.

What will miss to you is a way to occupy and administrate such large territories. if you spread out too thin, you men may loose in small ambush, if you concentrate too much you will no control the territory. This is a real problem that most modern army face.

They are plenty of example of such events, in modern and colonial history (such as the conquistador). But also in any modern asymmetric conflict.

With your forces, the conquest phase submitting the or destroying the local political force should not be a problem at all. You may not even have to battle, because you have access to the third dimension you can deploy and attack the main centre of political power. Capturing/killing political force in a moment. Cut the main communication line. It will be fast. The main problem is that your manpower is unsufficient to occupy and administrate such a large and populated territory. Revolt and resistance will soon be rampant and you will go for a long and bloody asymmetric conflict. The enemy will soon learn they cannot match your wrath. They will rely on ambush small scale offensive, destruction of your asset when possible. Retreating at the sound of any aeroplanes or tanks. you have a thousand sure but they can't be anywhere. And it at the price of a bomb it will be costly...

Your main concern is to lose the will to fight in your population...

A solution is to use fusion forces, i.e. recruit indigenous force willing to fight for you. Can be either hostile to current political power or the new political power you just have put in place. This happens very often. Your fusion forces occupy the territory and engage their former friends. Then you can concentrate your awesome firepower were it is needed without spreading it. Assuring the position of your new political ally and protectorate.


Sell them your guns. Sell them your culture but not your know-how. Exploit the class divide you have created by funding separatists so that you can defeat their patriotism. Once their love for their mother land subsides, and they realise that they are ‘primitive’ for being how they were, you have already won.

Alternatively, try this https://store.steampowered.com/app/508440/Totally_Accurate_Battle_Simulator/


Offense or defense?


If our protagonists are trying to conquer them, it's pretty much pointless. The only real option against a society that will fight to the last is kill them to the last. Genocide. A well informed modern population is unlikely to support genocide.

A modern society has an alarming number of ways to slaughter lots of people en mass, even if you take nukes off the table. Ways an 18th century society would have no way to counter. Biological weapons, orbital weapons (ye olde god rod), poisoning their water, their fields, their air... They don't even need to attack their enemies directly. Inflict a famine or two back to back, and the vast majority of the population will be dead or starving. The plague that almost certainly followed would all but depopulate the country.

They might try to turn the country into a prison, but that seems wildly impractical. Enslave the entire population? Same difference.


Defense should be trivial. There's AN OCEAN between them. It's all naval, all the time, and mostly wooden ships with the occasional iron-side will have absolutely no chance against a modern navy. There's absolutely no way for your primitives to sneak up on a civilization with satellites and drones and radar, and and and...

On land you can sneak up on your enemy and remove any range advantage. Primitives have zero chance of sneaking up on someone with radar, sonar, and real time satellite imagery.

Yes, the first military submersibles were used in the civil war. No, they didn't work. Their range sucked, they utterly failed their one mission I'd heard of, and their range was limited to the length of a drill bit attached to the roof. No chance of sneaking in.

And if they can't sneak, then it's all about range and accuracy. Smooth bore broadside vs modern naval weaponry? You know we have prototype laser weapons right? How long do you think a sail would hold up to a laser? Ditto for prototype rail guns: Coastal bombardment with a range over 200km.


Okay, so one political party on your island nation is running things, and they're expansionists. The island nation is hurting for land, so they take some from the primitives on the mainland. They don't take on the whole nation, they just kick the crap out of one little corner of it, and then fort up.

Now you've got a protagonist army on the mainland. Now it's clearing fields of fire, sensor/satellite/drone intel, and making explosions from afar (whether that be air power, artillery, or [cruise] missiles). Oh, and bullets. Lots and lots of bullets. Ooh ooh! And mine fields. Do you know we have artillery shells that can spread mines?


An ultimatum and a precision airstrike on the royal palace should do it. Followed by the same again if the next regime does not comply, and so on.

It really should not take long for political factions in the larger nation to figure out that peace is the only option. Yeah, everyone says that they'll fight to the death, but nobody does.

With this kind of technology, including drones, satellites etc, the smaller nation can easily track everything relevant in the larger one and destroy leadership targets at will. If necessary they could carry out shows of force to destroy more visible targets (for example, knocking out key bridges, dams etc) to disrupt infrastructure and make a point, but that would hardly be necessary.

Alternatively, develop nukes (would not take long with modern resources) or biological weapons.


Read some books of the culture series. Iain Banks did write only about this.

The trick is to bribe, convince, befriend and lure the bosses. As a superior in technology, you can widely control their networks so you know exactly who is standing where politically.

Then you can arrange accidents and diseases for the ones most opposed to you, even in early stages of their career before they reach positions of power, all the while strongly supportg the ones on your side with money and aid.

From time to time you might display your strength with an airplane flying over their heads or by sinking a ship or whatever. But you wouldn't need to use your soldiers if you can control the head of the snake.

That's even cheaper, even if you set up a spy bureaucracy somewhere between large and huge. War is still more expensive.

Especially if all your modern weapons just achieve that you conquer a completely destroyed land with resenting population.


I am going to list a few assumptions

  1. The enemy knows of you, they are convinced you are the devil incarnate which is way each and every one of their civilians are willing to die fighting you
  2. You do not have meaningful assets other than what you've listed available to you
  3. Your planes can make round trips to and from the enemy continent
  4. Your planes can effectively do one round trip a day
  5. Your planes are some variety of cargo or bomber and not air superiority fighters
  6. Your enemy has a navy, not just a military one but a merchant navy of a decent size

So with all these assumptions listed the first thing you will want to keep in mind is you never want to land on the enemy continent for any reason. You do not have the ships required to transport a meaningful presence on the shore and all goods and personnel will need to be transported to shore in boats as you have no friendly ports and I assume you don't want to beach your limited number of ships. Any attempt to establish a temporary port on sufficiently suitable coast will be noticed by your enemy and they will mass your beachhead long before you can bring enough troops to sufficiently fortify to protect from any attack.

But the likely loss of any attempts to make a beachhead is not the main reason you don't want to land on the enemy continent. The real reason is that if you do land and they overwhelm your defense they now have everything you left behind, be it machine guns, charts to your home, the tank that just kept running over people until it ran out of gas after it had fired every round it had into the numerous opposition. These are not savages and with examples of your technology they will immediately start to reverse engineer it and now the advantages of your ground forces can be counted in years not centuries.

On this note your warships have a much more important job than landing troops on the enemy continent and that is warding off any sailing ships from your enemy from landing on your home soil. They have the ships power a empire of a billion people and each one of those billion are willing to die to kill your people so you can bet every ship that isn't necessary to the survival of the empire is trying to land troops on your continent. Once they land you will have to deal with cells of terrorists hell bent on killing every last member of your country waging guerilla war. The worst case scenario on this front is if they manage to land a ship, have that crew gather information (books on modern science, high school teachers, scientists, etc) and get back home. At which point you are losing your tech advantage

Though if my assumptions are wrong and you can land all million of your troops, support them logistically, and never worry about your supply lines. you do not have enough people to occupy an area the size of Asia, any attempts to spread yourself that thin will result in loss of troops, which is loss of equipment, which is loss of tech advantage. Some people have recommended bombing cities into the ground but assuming they have a population distribution similar to 1800s England the majority of people will be living in the country or small towns and you only have 1000 planes. Also since they are near the beginning of the industrial revolution manufacturing is likely to be more spread out than in giant factories that you can bomb.

People suggesting engineering a plague are on the right track but if you ever want to inhabit that land it's still not a great choice as no plague will have a 100% fatality rate and unless you can be 100% sure your cure for the disease is effective and while it's killing off a billion people it will then it is a great way of softening the enemy, but it is still likely to be less effective against them than a modern society since they have 1800s tech so they don't have a highly mobile populace.

My suggestion is assuming even though you don't have nukes you do have radioactive isotopes. You will load those into bombs and drop them in water supplies, dust their crops, and shower their cities with those radioactive materials. Ideally whatever you use would have a half life measured in a decade or less, but preferably at least a year as you need time for the enemy to consume the water and food that is now a poison to their very existence. Over the course of years where you continually cover your enemies in clouds and rains of radioactivity while protecting your coast line your enemy will die excruciating deaths that they can not protect themselves from. This is not a disease communicable by human contact that can be quarantined it is a poisoning of the very land they live in and as long as they live there they will die in larger and larger numbers.Eventually your enemy will be dead and if you used isotopes with a low half life you can just wait a few decades, maybe a century and the voila new land to colonize


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