Military Innovations in Civilian Use
War is nothing to be grateful about but the research and development that has been historically applied to the battlefield has also benefited mankind through the creation of myriad products that have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. When countries go to war, it is usually the one using the best technology that wins. The United States military has always had a large budget to fight wars and keep the American homeland safe between conflicts. One would expect the products from military research and development to be primarily weapons for war – and they are; but there have been countless inventions that have contributed significantly to our daily lives. We can thank military technology for an abundance of useful items that have transferred from military to civilian use. Items ranging from canned food products to duct tape have been developed for wars but have adopted readily to civilian use. The urgency of battle has brought the greatest innovative minds to the forefront of technology under the sponsorship and direction of the American military. The most valuable products from the battlefield have been patented for civilian marketing and have become permeating in civilian life.
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In order to make the best use of these military innovations, some products had to be modified from their original military purposes, but many were readily transferrable to routine civilian use. Once the war ended or the purpose for the original military product had expired, these items were readily available for use by the general public. Many food products we consume today are the results of the military’s need for portability, convenience, and shelf-life. It is in a society’s best interests to maximize the use of military technologies for civilian applications. Consumers owe much to military innovators for many of the comfort items that we take for granted today.
The Evolution of Military Technology:
Prior to World War II, state sponsored science advanced rapidly in Europe. In contrast, American researchers were primarily occupied with practical usage science involving surveying and navigation to serve national goals like westward territorial expansion. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, American industrialists took an interest in the science that prompted technological change. Large corporations developed major industrial research capacities but they were forced to operate without government funding grants. Academic science was left to work in universities that had no government financial or technological support. The only exceptions were in the land grant schools that emerged in the late 1860s and were primarily concerned with developments in farming.
With the onset of the Civil War, military technology developed quickly and produced the first ironclad ships and submarines. Semaphore signaling became airborne in hot air balloons and the electric telegraph system was developed. Medical procedures on the battlefield were adapted according to necessity and the increasing amount of casualties received.
During World War I, scientific developers primarily worked on building better airplanes and submarines. Researchers labored to develop better radio communications and basic sonar for detecting submarines and paved the way for modern radar and direction-finding devices. At this time private industry was reluctant to work for the government, fearing that the military’s needs would overwhelm their research facilities and dominate their efforts. This was a conflict that has sometimes been referred to as “the chemists’ war” because of its development and deployment of poison gas, nitrates and high explosives.
When the Great Depression hit the country in the 1929, science suffered massive financial cutbacks. Research remained within the scope of universities and philanthropic organizations like the Carnegie or Rockefeller Institutes, and their endowments shriveled up during the economic disaster. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was frugal toward scientific research since there was no current war to fight. The isolationism following the massive casualties of World War I cut funding for the military and left it without funds to pursue scientific research projects.
World War II greatly increased the funding and opportunities for military research. President Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) in June 1940, which involved a group of scientist who dedicated their efforts to working with the needs of the military to fight the war and merging them with scientific and technological capabilities. This attracted academic and research facilities nationwide into working toward winning the war. The NDRC organized war laboratories and lured a multitude of great minds to working in them by offering government contracts. With a combined interest in winning the war and providing finances for research and development, the military and scientific researchers were permanently linked in a mutually beneficial relationship that still exists today. World War II permanently established a symbiotic relationship between American scientists, researchers, and the needs of the military.
After the war, Congress created the Office of Naval research (ONR) and gave it the obligation of funding basic science that was pertinent to the Navy’s needs at the nation’s universities. The NDRC shut down after the end of WWII and ONR became the primary government organization that funded scientific research projects. This led to the postwar methodology of federal funding of academic science. Their efforts were directed in 1950 by the National Science Foundation (NDF), which offered another conduit to government funding for private research efforts of interest to national security. This further established the link between science and the military that continues to this day. The Defense Department supplies almost 70 percent of government funding for research and development projects and the NSF is only involved in about 5 percent. 
Among the very early items that came from military research that impacted military and civilian usage were electricity and the electric light. While electricity was not discovered by military researchers, its usage was greatly expanded during wartime preparations and skirmishes. Military technicians also developed repeating rifles with smokeless powder, long-range artillery, high explosives, machine guns, and mechanized transport along with telegraphic and later wireless battlefield communications. American David Bushnell built the first submarine used in combat back in 1775. Unlike today’s government-funded military research facilities, independent inventors, scientists and engineers were largely responsible for the dramatic changes in military technology that were developed during the nineteenth century. 
Military technology evolved along with the needs derived from national wars and conflicts. The Civil War was fought using cannons and repeating rifles on the battlefield. Technology evolved through the Spanish-American War and World War I to develop new weapons of mass destruction including armored tanks, poison gases and machine guns.
World War II gave us a multitude of new products that fueled a roaring economy in the post-war era. Nuclear technology brought about the first nuclear bomb and two of them were used at the end of the war. Fusion and hydrogen bombs were developed in the intense effort to find more destructive weaponry. From these efforts came lasers and eventually microwave technology.
Combat mobility and operational needs gave us items like the widely used processed food products and the Jeep vehicle. Radar and sonar technology brought us modern navigation and weather forecasting as well as the Global Positioning System (GPS). Various modern medical procedures were the result of battlefield necessities and innovations of war-time military physicians. Advanced and innovative surgical procedures developed as the need for immediate triage and stabilization care expanded along with the millions of casualties of the war.
In the modern era following WWII, the technology of the Cold War added to the numerous products that have been developed from military usage. GPS, nuclear power, canned foods, computers, zippers, medicine, armor, microwave ovens, powdered drinks and foods, wristwatches and drones are all products that have been developed for military purposes and have successfully transitioned into civilian use. The civilian use of military technology is an ancillary benefit that taxpayers receive from their defense spending.
The enormous amount of military funding for research in the post-war era creates a conflict among scientists and academies. Some assert that the military’s influence has created a slant in applied research that affects the goals and direction of basic scientific research. The other school of thought is that military funding has greatly opened up opportunities for research that would not otherwise exist and the military’s intervention has not compromised the autonomy and focus of researchers. Without a doubt, the activities since World War II have affected the many interconnected interests that exist between academia and the military. 
The Second World War was in many ways a continuation of major problems left over from the First World War. The war involved nearly every part of the civilized world, pitting the Allied Forces of Great Britain, France, Russia, China and the United states against the Axis countries of Germany, Italy and Japan. It encompassed the years 1939 to 1945 and precipitated 40 to 50 million deaths, by far the largest and bloodiest war in history.
GPS – The system was originally invented by the military in the 1960s. The Global Positioning System was centered on the US Navy’s Transit satellite. This was the American response to the 1957 launch of the Soviets’ Sputnik, but the system would not be operational until 1964. Once the finished system finally came on line, there were 10 satellites placed in orbit, and the system was able to determine location data to naval ships and submarines as well as private ships. In 1983, the technology was approved for release to civilian enterprises and the systems were further improved through use in the Gulf War.
The systems necessary for enabling GPS have been patterned after the original series of satellites the Defense Department designed to enhance battlefield communications and guide submarine launched missiles. They developed a space-based radio navigation system for identifying battlefield targets, improving cartography, tracking plane trajectories and any other military need for spotting specific locations. Consumers now have the use of advanced GPS literally in their pockets in the form of the newest smart phones.
The Internet – The precursor to the Internet that was established during the Cold War in 1969 was the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). Today, most American homes have access to the World Wide Web thanks to military technology from the Cold War. This enables people to access information from an overwhelming amount of sources and to conveniently perform job searches, banking, travel arrangements and conduct research.
Weather Radar – During World War II, military radar operators saw that the weather could influence the radar’s readouts and cause echoes within the machinery. As radar technology improved, users developed better means for analyzing data and predicting the weather. Weathermen could now predict the coming of rain, snow, hail and major storms.
Duct Tape – This handy product can be found in nearly every home and business today. It is the result of a variety of needs during WWII for repairs and as a sealant for ammunition boxes or other temporary waterproofing needs. The military needed a tape that resisted dirt and water and a product was developed that was made from a rubber-based adhesive applied to a resilient duck-cloth backing.
Super Glue – First invented during World War II, chemist Harry Coover was working to invent a substance which could be used to make clear plastic gun sights. His compound cyanoacrylate was determined to be too sticky for this use. In 1958, this substance was first marketed as Super Glue.
Jet Engines – Air combat was greatly expanded during World War II and the need for faster and more powerful aircraft led to the development of airplanes that not only could fly faster, but higher and with greater maneuverability. The German engineers entered the first jet aircraft into air combat in 1943. Jet engines are now everyday items in commercial air travel.
Microwave Ovens – The development and use of radar during World War II led to the creation of the microwave oven for home use. Like Super Glue, the invention of the microwave oven was accidental. An American scientist in 1945 discovered that radar transmitters produced enough heat to cook food when a candy bar melted in his pocket. That same year, Raytheon Corporation applied for the first patent for a microwave oven. The first products were huge and impractical but in 1967, the technology enabled the ovens to be produced in a size small enough for home usage.
Canned Food – Feeding an army on the battlefield has been a perennial logistical problem, and one that has produced many ingenious solutions throughout history. In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s army needed a way to take food along on military excursions. The French government offered a cash reward for an economically viable way to preserve large amounts of food. One opportunist discovered that when food was cooked in a jar it remained edible until the seal was broken. Some years later, the technology was applied to metal cans. Later on much of the best ideas and products were developed at the U.S. Army’s own research and development labs in Natick, Massachusetts during World War II. Anastacia Marx de Salcedo did extensive research into military contributions to modern food products and Nicola Twilley described her findings in a nutshell: “Wartime innovations in blood plasma transport paved the way for instant coffee, the McRib is descended from military research into “fabricated modules of meat,” and the finger-staining dust on Cheetos can be traced back to a dehydrated, compressed “jungle” cheese invented by government scientists in 1943.”
The U.S. military was eager to share its research with commercial food corporations who sought government vendor contracts but were hesitant to invest their own resources into research and development. The military’s combat needs resulted in a direct fashioning of food products that were made into grocery staples. This means that the military’s needs have played too large a part in determining what the public food industry sells to consumers. Unfortunately, the products that make it to the grocer’s shelves are designed for “portability, convenience, shelf-life and mass appeal, rather than health, taste or environmental sustainability.”
The Epipen – Developed by the military to quickly provide antidotes to chemical and nerve agents on the battlefield, the Epipen made its way into commercial use when approved by the FDA in 1987. The Mark I NAAK is still used in the military’s service materials.
Aviator Sunglasses – In the 1930s, Ray-Ban developed a new style of sunglasses to address pilots’ complaints of sun glaring at high altitudes. The new product had dark green lenses to keep out the sun and they were designed with large lenses to offer protection over the entire field of view. The product worked so well that it was then sold to hunters and people who spent time outdoors in the bright sunlight. Today, they are ubiquitous among people who spend time outdoors. 
Penicillin – World War II made widespread use of this antibiotic to fight battlefield infections even though the product was developed during the 1920s. The medicine, one of the safest, is still commonly used today to fight infections.
Nylon and Synthetics – Due to the scarcity of silk during World War II, DuPont developed nylon as an alternative fiber. The war effort also produced synthetic fuels and synthetic rubber for tires.
Digital Cameras – Digital camera technology began with early spy satellites when they were developed to photograph high-resolution aerial pictures of enemy positions and installations. The technology for digital imaging progressed rapidly during the 1970s when the first self-contained digital camera was produced. Today, every cell phone uses digital technology that was originally developed for military purposes. Two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone today, an increase from under 35 percent in the spring of 2011. Nearly one in five choose a smartphone for accessing the Internet and for gleaning news information to stay connected to the world. Many of these people lack broadband Internet services at home and have few options for getting online other than their smartphones. About 62% of smartphone users have used their phone to look up information about health care, 57% have used their phone for online banking, 40% to look up government services, 30% for educational content and 18% to submit a job application.
Smart Dust – Another product of the post-Cold War military research, the concept of sprinkling the earth with tiny computer sensors has been around since the 1990s when Kris Pister, a computer researcher envisioned a world where the government would rain tiny computers on the planet to monitor everything. He labeled these rice-sized miniature sensors, “smart dust.” Like computerized nerve endings, these gadgets would be equipped with long batteries, wireless transmitters, sensing equipment and computing powers to send trillions of bytes of information about people and the urban and natural environment in real time.
The future of smart dust will be determined by the application of sensors, gadgets and transceivers that will talk to each other and collect, store and analyze large quantities of information. Smart dust will offer computing that will be personalized for consumers and secured from hackers and identity thieves. It will usher in an era of interaction between computers, society and consumers. Every product will someday be connected to a computer grid. As the “Internet of Things” becomes reality, security implications will hamper the benefits of this new era of connectivity in social interaction, innovative designing and marketing challenges.
Drones – The U.S. military uses a variety of drones. The RQ-11 Raven weighs about 4 pounds, is launched with a throw, and is controlled by a hand-held unit that resembles a video-game controller. The Raven is probably the most used military drone and over 19,000 have been employed. Its primary function is to see around corners and to send film footage of rooftops back to soldiers operating within a city. Their civilian use has been very limited due to numerous concerns over air space, privacy and terrorism issues. The future will see an expanded role for drones both in the military and for civilian purposes.
Another option that has been discussed is the expanded use of unmanned aerial vehicles to offer close air support on the battlefield. Individual drones cannot carry enough firepower to replace support planes like the A-10 but a fleet of drones may offer significant assistance for close air support. Some leaders in the Air Force contend that drones like the MQ-9 Reaper are simply too vulnerable to being shot down to be used for close air support. Other military leaders are not convinced of this and say they can be modified to handle the job.
Cooking Stoves – Originally developed for special ops forces in the field, the Ghana Clean Stove is a product that is portable, efficient and very easy to use. It uses clean-burning gas to cook food instead of high-carbon, polluting fossil fuels like wood or biomasses. It eliminates the need for people to go out and forage for firewood or other burnable materials. It delivers a very high heat quickly and cleanly and can be used indoors without the choking smoke of a wood fire. The system is virtually foolproof in use; a high-octane gas is used to power the stove and the unit itself is small and lightweight for easy transport.
The Jeep – The “Jeep” or General Purpose vehicle was introduced during WWII. The U.S. Army issued the first contract to produce the Jeep to Willys-Overland Motor Company of Toledo on July 16, 1941. The vehicle was used for multi-purpose transportation of personnel with fully capable four-well drive power train suitable for use by the U.S. and allies in all combat theaters during the war. The vehicle was tough, light and fast on the combat zone and if it got stuck, troops could lift it out. It towed anti-tank guns for quick deployment and it could handle a machine gun for infantry use. It quickly became popular for civilian use after the war.
Wristwatches – Handy watches that could be used to synchronize battlefield maneuvers were developed by the army and put into use during WWI. By wearing a timepiece on the wrist, the user can glance at the time without having to pull a watch form a pocket or other inconvenience. Their popularity spread throughout the world and made their way into civilian life as a fashion accessory and popular time peace.
Walkie-Talkies – These devices were developed for battlefield communications during WWII. It was created for use in the infantry and expanded to field artillery and tank crews to offer reliable communications on the battlefields. Their civilian use began with law enforcement and worked their way into construction projects and other job sites. They are now available for private use as well.
Night Vision – The German Army developed night vision technology during WWII and used them on Panther tanks. As the technology improved, portable night-vision systems were applied to Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles and were picked up by the allies and eventually used throughout the war theater. The technology is now used in cameras and newer cars for night safety. 
Freeze Drying – While the process was invented in 1906, the practice became widespread during WWII to freeze-dry blood serum to prevent it from decaying while in transit. This facilitated better treatment for wounded soldiers and saved many lives. The technique was expanded in subsequent years to include processing food, pharmaceuticals, synthetics and for curing ceramic products. 
Jerrycan – Manufactured by Germany during the 1930s for military use, the jerrycan held 20 liters of petro and made the transfer of fuel easier. Previously, refueling involved funnels and clumsy procedures that this device has greatly simplified. The necessity of the battlefield offered convenience for consumers as this product became readily available. 
Military Clothing – After the Viet Nam war, field jackets, bell-bottom pants and dungarees were the fashion trend among young people. After World War II, Britain and the United States emerged as fashion industry leaders and sought to influence younger consumers with eye-catching designs patterned after the military. In later years, American designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein developed sportswear as a fashion trend. Innovative designs redefined traditional concepts and created new style statements with ready-to-wear products as opposed to the haute couture tastes of individual buyers. Much of their designs were influenced by the military’s uniforms and work clothing.
Blood banks and Transfusions – The battlefield casualties during World War I created a need for a quick establishment of blood banks and techniques for transfusions. Early transfusions had to happen from man-to-man because of problems involving coagulation. Techniques and storage innovations happened fast, and blood banks were created to service the multitudes of casualties. Military battlefield lessons learned from transfusions were adapted to the civilian world and transfusions and donations are still working to save lives.
The Space Program – The end years of World War II saw German scientists working on developing long-range rockets for carrying explosive warheads to enemy targets. These early attempts at rocketry were the precursors for putting men into space. The United States commandeered the Nazi scientists who worked on the V2 rocket program to the states to assist them in developing a space program to meet President Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon prior to 1970. Today, the earth’s orbit is littered with hundreds of satellites used for military as well as commercial purposes. 
The commercial space industry has been slow to develop, as there are often problems finding the right balance between commercial interests and national security concerns. The bonanza for space marketing has not happened as predicted due to a series of failures with low earth orbit systems. Still, the prospects for commercial success in space adventures are good. 
Manufacturing in microgravity or weightless conditions offers unparalleled advantages for materials processing operations. In orbit, materials processing can be accomplished without the effects of gravity, which on earth causes materials of different densities and temperatures to separate and deform under the influence of their own masses. When describing an object as “weightless,” we do not only mean there is an absence of gravity. We are referring to the absence of relative motion between objects in a freely falling environment. Ordinary and comparatively cheap raw materials are made into useful crystals, chemicals, metals, ceramics, and countless other manufactured products in such conditions. 
Ambulances – Ambulances have been active on the battlefield for hundreds of years. They were typically left out of the combat operations until the battle ended and they could collect the wounded. With the advent of the automobile, motorized ambulances were developed and the procedures made their way into civilian applications.
Military Strategy – Military planning procedures have been continuously adopted by business executives. The U.S. Army defines planning as “…a continuous process in preparation for future assigned or assumed tasks.” And: “Army planning requires an accurate definition of the mission, expression of the commander’s intent, completion of commander and staff estimates and the development of a concept of operation.“ 
One business definition of planning includes, “defining the ends to be achieved and determining appropriate means to achieve the defined ends.” Another business definition of planning lists, “defining organizational goals and proposing ways to reach them.” Both business and military definitions of planning address future objectives and an on-going and defined process for achieving and reaching those goals. 
The efficiency demanded under combat conditions has created a streamlined chain of command and management operation that is being emulated by business planners. Effective planning of events and achieving the required changes to make those events happen are similar requirements for success in both military and business operations. Successful business enterprises are highly centralized entities much like the military. Business endeavors, much like military operations, are most successful when they are well-planned and executed by effective leaders who understand how to make things happen within the organization and are aware of external factors that can impact their plans.
In war, as in business, the most effective leaders will generally prevail over the competition. Strong leadership is the bedrock for success in any organization. Good leaders always have a vision for the organization’s future or for the accomplishment of a mission. Generals and Admirals – like CEOs and executive tycoons – need good leadership skills and a plan for implementing their objectives within their respective organizations.
The pressing needs of a battlefield have spawned some great inventions that have transformed civilian life. The multitude of products previously described here show how interconnected the world of academia and the military have become, especially since the end of World War II. The United States has a tremendous amount of funding available for military projects; the 2019 budget request is for $716 billion for national security, $686 billion of which is for the Department of Defense.
While war is nothing to glorify, the ancillary benefits of applied military research have been substantial. Of the countless products we consume daily, many are of military origins. This is an expensive way to conduct scientific research but it has created a symbioitic relationship between the military and academic researchers and scientists. The military benefits from the application of great minds and resources to solve battlefield problems, and the private sector benefits from obtaining lucrative government contracts.
Another controversial item that comes from the relationship between the military and civilian police agencies is the dissemination of surplus military hardware. Thanks to a Pentagon surplus give-away operation called the 1033 Program, the military donates surplus or outdated machinery and gear to police agencies. This program has increased the presence of military-style hardware in our country’s streets and has radically vamped up the police response to protests. The type and function of these military giveaways may be considered excessive by some for the agency that receives them, and for the usage to which they apply them.
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The Trump Administration has proposed huge funding increases for the military, and they have ambitious plans for a space force and other military research projects. According to the Defense Department’s own operational strategy: “To address the scope and pace of our competitors’ and adversaries’ ambitions and capabilities, we must invest in modernization of key capabilities through sustained, predictable budgets.” The enormous growth of the military budget will ensure a future of funding for military projects and at least some of them will produce innovative products for the future. The future of scientific research will likely be forever married to military funding, but the public could see some important technological advancements that may make life easier for the American consumers.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for costly military advancements, but the research and development that the military demands create products that can eventually be of use to the private sector. Society at large has greatly benefitted from it in the form of comfort items.
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 Williams, Kathleen B. (2010) “The Military’s Role in Stimulating Science and Technology: The Turning Point,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, May 28, accessed online on August 27, 2019 at: https://www.fpri.org/article/2010/05/the-militarys-role-in-stimulating- science-and-technology-the-turning-point/
 Marshall, Michael (2009) “Timeline: Weapons technology,” New Scientist, July 7, accessed online on August 21, 2019 at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17423-timeline-weapons-technology/
 Schroeer & Elena (2018) “Technology Transfer,” Chapter 4: Military Technology to Consumer Good, Routledge, New York.
 Marshall (2009)
 Marshall, (2009)
 Perry, (2004)
 Shu, Les (2014) “GPS, drones, microwaves and other everyday technologies born on the battlefield,” Digital Trends, May 26, accessed online on August 21 at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/modern-civilian-tech-made-possible-wartime-research-development/
 Williams, (2010)
 Hastings, Max (2012) “Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945,” Reprint Edition, Vintage Books, New York, N.Y.
 Mendes, Claudia (2019) “Military Inventions We Use Every Day,” War History Online, April 21, accessed online on August 20, 2019 at: https://www.warhistoryonline.com/history/military-inventions-we-use-every.html
 Willings, Adrian (2019) “28 ways military tech changed our lives,” Pocket Lint, May 31, accessed online on August 21, 2019 at: https://www.pocket-lint.com/gadgets/news/143526-how-military-tech-changed-our-lives
 Mendes, (2019)
 Winter, Lisa (2016) “11 Technologies You Didn’t Know Came From The Military,” A Plus, April 17, accessed online on August 20, 2019 at: https://articles.aplus.com/a/11- everyday-military-inventions?no_monetization=true
 Willings, (2019)
 Twilley, Nicola (2015) “How Military R&D Created the Food We Eat,” Popular Science, August 10, accessed online on August 26, 2019 at: https://www.popsci.com/how-military-created-food-we-know-it/ par. 4
 Ibid. par. 10
 Willings, (2019)
 Winter, (2016)
 Shu, (2014)
 Willings, (2019)
 Smith, Aaron (2015) “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015,” Pew research Center, April 15, accessed online on August 26, 2019 at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/
 Sutter, John D. (2010) “’Smart dust’ aims to monitor everything,” CNN, May 3, accessed online on August 24, 2019 at: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/05/03/smart.dust.sensors/
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