According to the World Bank, the world spent 2.6 percent of its earnings on its militaries in 2010. A large portion of that is commanded by the U.S., which accounted for 41 percent of global military spending in 2012. During the Cold War it was even greater. During WWI and WWII, all of the major world players converted to wartime economies that accomplished herculean logistics operations. Through it all, vast amounts of research and development has been poured into designing more powerful and efficient weapons. At times, such as during the Cold War, countries raced with one another, fearing the cost of slipping even a small amount in the development of military technology. Below are 10 extraordinary examples of the fruits of those efforts. Regardless of your positions regarding war and the political forces behind it, these weapons and weapons platforms are incredible feats of engineering and ingenuity.
1. Atomic Annie
What's cooler than a 280mm artillery weapon that can fire at ranges of up to 20 miles? A 280mm artillery weapon that can fire nukes at ranges of up to 20 miles, of course. The M65 Atomic Cannon, nicknamed Atomic Annie after the German rail-gun Anzio Annie, was a weapon developed in the early '50s during the Cold War. Primarily fielded in Korea and test fired just once, it was the first and last of its kind.
2. The Paris Gun
One of the largest weapons ever built, the Paris Gun was a type of artillery piece used by Germany to shell Paris during WWI from over 75 miles away, a feat then thought to be impossible. Perhaps ominously, the first shell ever fired is regarded as being the first human-made object to enter the stratosphere.
3. MQ-9 Reaper Drone
Not long after the infamous Predator drone proved itself as a powerful surveillance platform, the U.S. military decided to retrofit it with a couple of Hellfire Missiles. The success of that program led to the development of the powerful Reaper, which, among other things, can carry 16 Hellfire Missiles.
4. M1 Abrams Tank
The M1 Abrams is the world's most advanced tank. Originally introduced in 1980 as a replacement for the M60, the Abrams has received continuous upgrades over the years, keeping it at the forefront of modern combat.
5. A-10 Thunderbolt
Also popularly known as the Warthog, the A-10 is one of the U.S.' primary Close Air Support (CAS) platforms. Its 30mm GAU-8 gun fires depleted uranium rounds at rates of either 2,100 or 4,200 rounds-per-minute.
6. AC-130U Spooky
If you're an infantrymen in a tight spot on the ground, this is what you want to show up. Primarily a special forces asset, the Spooky is decked out with 105mm howitzers, a 40mm autocannon, a 105mm M102 cannon, and a 25mm GAU-12 Equalizer (a gatling gun similar to that on the Warthog.) Basically, it's a flying battleship that more than lives up to its name.
7. The Iron Dome
The Iron Dome is one of the premier missile interceptor systems currently fielded. It is an exclusively defensive technology that is used by Israeli Defense Forces to neutralize a large portion of the short-range rocket threat from militant Palestinians. In 2012, during operation Pillar of Cloud, the IDf was able to intercept 142 rockets, and subsequently ordered several more of the batteries to be placed throughout exposed locations. It works by using radar to detect incoming projectiles, determing whether they are likely to fall in populated areas, and then firing a super-fast missile to intercept the rocket if needed.
8. The Kongsberg NSM
The Norwegian-developed Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile is one of the most advanced cruise missiles in the world. The stealthy weapon has a range of 100 nautical miles, is built using lightweight composite materials, and uses an earth-mapping technology that allows it to fly unbelievably low to the ground. It also has the ability to perform random, in-air maneuvers to help confuse enemy countermeasures.
9. The Nuclear Bomb
Of course we can't forget the absolute bain of modern civilization — nukes. The development of nuclear weapons during WWII and the subsequent use of those weapons on Japan has changed the world forever. Now countries jockey for nuclear technology so that they too may have a bargaining chip in the global standoff. During the Cold War, Western and Eastern Bloc countries, headed up by the U.S. and Russia, were locked in a high-stakes game that held civilization in the balance. Many believe that the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with a few other near-cataclysmic events, serve as evidence that no one should possess nuclear weapons.
10. Special Operations Soldiers
For all of the amazing engineering and bleeding-edge technology that exists on this list, one technology trumps them all in complexity and dynamic ability. Spec-ops units the world over are renowned for pushing their bodies and minds to the limits. They train and prepare themselves with an intensity that very few people are capable of mustering. Be it U.S. Green Berets, British S.A.S or Russian Spetsnaz, they truly are the awesomest weapons.