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A M1A1 tank firing its main gun

Firepower is the military capability to direct force at an enemy. (It is not to be confused with the concept of rate of fire, which describes the cycling of the firing mechanism in a weapon system.) Firepower involves the whole range of potential weapons. The concept is generally taught as one of the three key principles of modern warfare wherein the enemy forces are destroyed or have their will to fight negated by sufficient and preferably overwhelming use of force as a result of combat operations.


Through the ages firepower has come to mean offensive power applied from a distance, thus involving ranged weapons as opposed to one-on-one close quarters combat. Firepower is thus something employed to keep enemy forces at a range where they can be defeated in detail or sapped of the will to continue. In the field of naval artillery, the weight of a broadside was long used[ by whom? ] as a figure of merit of a warship's firepower.


The earliest forms of warfare that might be called firepower were the slingers of ancient armies (a notable example being the biblical story of David), and archers. Eventually, the feared Huns employed the composite bow and light cavalry tactics to shower arrows on the enemy forces, a tactic that also appeared in a less mobile form in Britain, with its famed longbowmen, used during the various Anglo-French conflicts collectively known as the Hundred Years' War during the Middle Ages. The Battle of Crécy is often thought of as the beginning of the "age of firepower" in the west, where missile weapons enabled a small force to defeat a numerically superior enemy without the need for single combat. Firepower was later used to dramatic effect in a similar fashion during the Battle of Agincourt.

Later examples

Firepower of military units large and small has steadily increased since the introduction of firearms, with technical improvements that have, with some exceptions, diminished the effectiveness of fortification. Such improvements made close order formation useless for middle to late 19th century infantry, and the use of machine guns early in the 20th stymied frontal assaults. Military uniforms changed from gaudy to drab, making soldiers less visible to the increasing firepower. At sea, improved naval artillery ended the use of prize crews, and naval aviation brought an end to heavily armored battleships.

The use of firepower in achieving military objectives became one of several conflicting schools of military thought, or doctrines. The Battle of Vimy Ridge used massed artillery to help win an Allied victory, but dramatic improvements in siege weapon technology had also gone hand in hand with small scale infantry tactics. [1] Operation Desert Storm also relied on massed firepower as did the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but firepower was integrated with advances in small-unit training.

Small arms, such as the M249 SAW, have been employed on a squad level to provide an overwhelming volume of fire in relatively close quarters situations (within 100-300 yds). The idea is that a large volume of accurate suppressive fire will immobilize the enemy, degrading their ability to perform. In addition, grenade launchers such as the M79, and particularly those that can be underslung on an assault rifle, such as the M203 or M320, are used to provide units with a disproportionate amount of firepower. These weapons are useful in situations where a unit is outnumbered and needs to respond immediately with fire superiority, such as in an ambush by forces not similarly equipped.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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A battle is a combat in warfare between two or more armed forces. A war usually consists of multiple battles. In general, a battle is a military engagement that is well defined in duration, area, and force commitment. An engagement with only limited commitment between the forces and without decisive results is sometimes called a skirmish.

Infantry Military personnel who fight on foot

Infantry is a military specialization that engages in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and armored forces. Also known as foot soldiers or infantrymen, infantry traditionally relies on moving by foot between combats as well, but may also use mounts, military vehicles, or other transport. Infantry make up a large portion of all armed forces in most nations, and typically bear the largest brunt in warfare, as measured by casualties, deprivation, or physical and psychological stress.

Military tactics encompasses the art of organizing and employing fighting forces on or near the battlefield. They involve the application of four battlefield functions which are closely related – kinetic or firepower, mobility, protection or security, and shock action. Tactics are a separate function from command and control and logistics. In contemporary military science, tactics are the lowest of three levels of warfighting, the higher levels being the strategic and operational levels. Throughout history, there has been a shifting balance between the four tactical functions, generally based on the application of military technology, which has led to one or more of the tactical functions being dominant for a period of time, usually accompanied by the dominance of an associated fighting arm deployed on the battlefield, such as infantry, artillery, cavalry or tanks.

Combined arms Using different types of combat units together.

Combined arms is an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different combat arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects. According to strategist William S. Lind, combined arms can be distinguished from the concept of "supporting arms" as follows:

Combined arms hits the enemy with two or more arms simultaneously in such a manner that the actions he must take to defend himself from one make him more vulnerable to another. In contrast, supporting arms is hitting the enemy with two or more arms in sequence, or if simultaneously, then in such combination that the actions the enemy must take to defend himself from one also defends himself from the other(s).


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Trench warfare Land warfare involving static fortification of lines

Trench warfare is a type of land warfare using occupied fighting lines largely comprising military trenches, in which troops are well-protected from the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery. Trench warfare became archetypically associated with the World War I (1914–1918), when the Race to the Sea rapidly expanded trench use on the Western Front starting in September 1914.

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Fire and movement Basic modern military low-level unit tactic

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Shock tactics All-out attack to break enemy line

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Napoleonic tactics describe certain battlefield strategies used by national armies from the late 18th century until the invention and adoption of the rifled musket in the mid 19th century. Napoleonic tactics are characterized by intense drilling of the soldiers, speedy battlefield movement, combined arms assaults between infantry, cavalry, and artillery, relatively small numbers of cannon, short-range musket fire, and bayonet charges. Napoleon I is considered by military historians to have been a master of this particular form of warfare. Napoleonic tactics continued to be used after they had become technologically impractical, leading to large-scale slaughters during the American Civil War, Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War.


  1. Berton, Pierre Vimy. See also Morton, Desmond When Your Number's Up for a discussion of combined arms tactics in the First World War.