For explaining European military superiority over Afro-Asia in general and India in particular, most of the historians followed Edward Gibbon’s emphasis on gunpowder weapons.
Superior organization of the polity and military technology assisted expansion of British power in eighteenth century Asia. Geoffrey Parker asserts that the military balance changed in favor of the West because of the Military Revolution which infolded between 1500 and 1750.
The Military Revolution on land actually was an amalgamation of two revolutions. The first involved a Revolution in Siege Warfare due to the emergence of trace Italians (star shaped scientific fortress architecture) and siege artillery.
Then a Revolution in Field Warfare occurred due to the rise of firearms equipped infantry supported by field artillery. Another characteristic of the Military Revolution was sustained growth in the size of the European armies.
The late sixteenth century witnessed Europe’s new way of making warfare which involved bastioned fortifications, scientific gunnery and disciplined infantry tactics. All these resulted in a battlefield revolution.
Jeremy Black writes that European military innovations like the bayonet, flintlock musket, grape and canister firing field artillery opened up a major gap in capability between firearms equipped European armies and their non-European opponents.
One of the chief characteristics of the firearms equipped European infantry was that the men were drilled in the style of the Roman legions. Superior administrative and political capability generated effective tactical discipline on the part of the Western forces.
Black continues that from the sixteenth century onwards, European forces acquired an edge in keeping cohesion and control in battle much longer than their adversaries. And this permitted more sophisticated tactics in moving units on the battlefield and more effective fire discipline.
The gunpowder revolution in Europe established modern state structures that in turn were able to sustain costly firepower armies. The Western advantage in military techniques and infrastructure rested on foundations of European economic, social and institutional changes.
From the mid-seventeenth century, the impersonal bureaucracy pushed the semi-independent military entrepreneurs (feudal knights and mercenaries) to the margin. John Keegan asserts that by the fifteenth century gunpowder allowed the French monarchy to cow down the refractory chieftains thus giving birth to a centralized state structure backed by a fiscal system.
After 1550, armor penetrating firearms used by the infantry in the state’s payroll drove the feudal cavalry from the field. And the artillery of the king destroyed the forts of the semi-independent knights. Artillery was so costly that only the monarchy could maintain it. The Europeans were well advanced in the field of international finance. The international credit network sustained the Western military activities across the globe.
Compared to the Western warfare, the backwardness of the Afro- Asians was evident in the theory and weapons of warfare as well as regarding the institutions supporting organized violence.
The Afro- Asian armies lacked any regular cohesive organization. Soldiering was a part time occupation of the cultivators and pay was irregular. Professional standing armies were absent in pre-colonial Afro-Asia.
Hence, the Afro-Asian soldiers were indiscipline. In battles, the Africans and the Asians fought as aggregates of individuals and not as cohesive bodies of soldiers. Raiding and counter raiding before the monsoon constituted the principal method of fighting among the non- European rulers.
For instance the Maratha force was mostly composed of light cavalry designed for levying tribute rather than for organized conquest. Asian warfare was characterized by the use of elephants and inadequate cohesion among the mounted arm during hand to hand combat.
In the seventeenth century, the African and Asian method of warfare proved ineffective against the European warfare which was characterized by the use of bayonets, flintlocks, and prefabricated paper cartridges, standardization of artillery’s ball, ball weight and firing procedures.
However, a point of caution is necessary. To win in Africa and Asia, the British had to imitate non-Western techniques of conducting grand strategy. This meant carrying on negotiations and intrigues with partners within the enemy coalition simultaneously while conducting field operations.
Then the Indians as horsemen and sepoys of the British led Sepoy Army and land revenue of the Bengal Presidency enabled Britain to conquer India. In the first half of the nineteenth century, about 220,000 sepoys and horsemen fought for the British both inside and outside India in regions as far as Africa and China.
Warfare in South-East Asia was also lagging behind the type of organized violence practiced by the West. In pre-colonial Philippines, warfare was characterized by small scale seasonal raids rather than pitched battles involving sizeable number of soldiers.
In the Indonesian Archipelago, pre-European warfare was characterized by headhunting. The combatants fought with sword and javelins. Prisoners were sold after the campaign. Occasionally destruction of plantations and villages also occurred. Bloody conflict-resulting in total destruction of the enemy force and permanent conquest were trends introduced by the Europeans.