Somewhat earlier, in medieval China, gunpowder had been invented, and was increasingly used by the military in combat. The use of gunpowder in the early vase-like mortars in Europe, and advanced versions of the long bow and cross bow, which all had armour-piercing arrowheads, that put an end to the dominance of the armoured knight. After the long bow, which required great skill and strength to use, the next most significant technological advance was the musket, which could be used effectively, with little training. In time, the successors to muskets and cannon, in the form of rifles and artillery, would become core battlefield technology.

As the speed of technological advances accelerated in civilian applications, so too warfare became more industralised. The newly invented machine gun and repeating rifle redefined firepower on the battlefield, and, in part, explains the high casualty rates of the American Civil War. The next breakthrough was the conversion of artillery parks from the muzzle loading guns, to the quicker loading breech loading guns with recoiling barrel that allowed quicker aimed fire and use of a shield. The widespread introduction of low smoke (smokeless) propellant powders since the 1880s also allowed for a great improvement of artillery ranges.
The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
Examinees also receive a score on what is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). AFQT scores are computed using the Standard Scores from four ASVAB subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK). AFQT scores are reported as percentiles between 1-99. An AFQT percentile score indicates the percentage of examinees in a reference group that scored at or below that particular score. For current AFQT scores, the reference group is a sample of 18 to 23 year old youth who took the ASVAB as part of a national norming study conducted in 1997. Thus, an AFQT score of 90 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 90% of the nationally-representative sample of 18 to 23 year old youth. An AFQT score of 50 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 50% of the nationally-representative sample.