->''"First we got The Bomb and that was good''\\
''[='=]Cause we love peace and motherhood''\\
''Then Russia got The Bomb, but that's OK'';\\
''[='=]Cause the balance of power is maintained that way''\\
''Who's next?"''
-->-- '''Music/TomLehrer''' "Who's Next?"

This is what happens when (nation-)states attempt to prove that MyKungFuIsStrongerThanYours or build a BiggerStick.

If a military conflict goes on long enough in a high-tech setting, each side will be struggling to become and remain stronger than the other - often by producing better equipment and weapons. Sometimes, this process of SerialEscalation goes way over the top (especially with SovietSuperscience).

TruthInTelevision, naturally, with first and last decades of the UsefulNotes/ColdWar between the USA and the Soviet Union as the TropeCodifier and the inspiration for many Arms Races in fiction. As a result, these Arms Races usually have rapid inventions of [[WeaponOfMassDestruction Nuclear Weapons-parallels]], Space Weaponry, MutuallyAssuredDestruction, and other Cold War-era tropes. The TropeNamer comes from Creator/EEDocSmith's ''Literature/{{Lensman}}'' novels. Over the course of a decades-long struggle (that was only the surface of a [[GambitRoulette deeper, eons-old war between cosmic beings using mortals as pawns]]), Civilization and Boskone went from ordinary starship battles to star-powered lasers, {{antimatter}} bombs, planets used as missiles, ''antimatter'' planets used as missiles, ''faster-than-light'' missiles, ''[[BreadEggsBreadedEggs faster-than-light antimatter]] [[NinjaPirateZombieRobot planet missiles...]]''

If somebody tries to argue this as evidence that competition and the constant drive to survive and build Bigger Sticks to kill each other motivates technological evolution, he is likely to be a SocialDarwinist.

''Moore's Law'' is this trope applied specifically to computer technology, stating that every eighteen months, roughly, we see a doubling of transistor density (and thus hardware capabilities).

See also: PlotLeveling, SoLastSeason, SortingAlgorithmOfEvil, SerialEscalation, SpaceColdWar.

Not to be confused with the rather less bloody EscalatingWar.



[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* ''Franchise/{{Gundam}}'':
** ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam'' (original Universal Century timeline): The Principality of Zeon launches a war with their mobile suits (at the time, a new technology). At the start of the first series, the Federation has just produced the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RX-78-2_Gundam RX-78 Gundam,]] a SuperPrototype HumongousMecha with the armor and weaponry roughly equivalent to that of a ''battleship''. By the end of that war, only a few months later, Zeon has begun mass producing mobile suits that are almost even with the Gundam. Seventy war-filled years later, the [[http://gundam.wikia.com/wiki/LM314V21_Victory_2_Gundam Victory 2 Assault Buster Gundam]] is 3 meters shorter than and half the weight of the RX-78, and boasts an inertialess drive system, a force field and more firepower than every Mobile Suit from the One-Year War put together.
** ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamWing '' has a bit of a Lensmen quality to its mobile suit development. Initially the Leo mobile suit is a formidable weapon especially in the hands of a competent pilot. In the first episode we even see Zechs take out Heero's gundam using nothing but a Leo (albeit sacrificing the suit in the process). Soon the Taurus comes out, and the series is dominated with images of Taurus' tearing Leos to shreds. Then comes the Virgo, a much more innovative mobile weapon which is seen tearing Taurus' to shreds (and Leos too). The culminations of this arms race are Gundam Epyon and Wing Gundam Zero, both capable of massacring whole armies of Leos, Taurus', Virgos and basically every other mobile suit seen before them.
** ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam00'' has this happen right around the end of the first season and takes off from there. By the end of the second season, they've gone from mostly present day levels of technology to fleets of battle ships, armies of superpowered mechs, a gigantic space station with a super laser, and a Mobile suit capable of going through matter and connecting people's minds. The movie, though not technically an example, essentially continues this process to... well [[SerialEscalation escalate.]] In the second season this get's lampshaded by Andrei.
-->''Yet another new model. What kind of budget and manpower are the A-Laws working with?''
** ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamSEED'' and its sequel are also notorious offenders. It starts at roughly the same tech level as UC, with one side having just produced its first mobile suit prototypes. By the end, one side has a WaveMotionGun KillSat that can sterilize Earth with just two shots. In the sequel, we get [[CombiningMecha combining]] and [[TransformingMecha transforming]] mobile suits by the hundreds, the [[TheJuggernaut Destroy]] [[GiantMook Gundam]] (followed by [[ThereIsNoKillLikeOverkill half a dozen more]]), the Neo-Genesis which is a smaller version of the aforementioned WaveMotionGun and the Requiem, the strategic weapon to end all strategic weapons: a '''{{Roboteching}} WaveMotionGun''' that can hit anything anywhere, without line-of-sight.
* ''Anime/MazingerZ'': Throughout the series, the title HumongousMecha has to be constantly upgraded and endowed with new weapons and capabilities in order to battle [[BigBad Dr.]] [[MadScientist Hell's]] increasingly powerful [[{{Robeast}} Kikaiju]]. Of course it drove Hell to create still more dangerous {{Robeast}}s and [[spoiler:when Mazinger Z finally could not catch up, it was replaced with an entirely new robot, ''Anime/GreatMazinger''.]]
* In ''Anime/CodeGeass'', the first example of RealRobot technology was used in combat seven years before the series, consisting of ground-based Knightmare Frames armed with machine guns, recoilless rifles, and cannons. At the start of the series, most of these have been replaced with a newer generation of Knightmares, but they are still limited in their abilities. The second episode introduces the first Seventh-Generation Knightmare, a SuperPrototype with experimental weapons and technology, but still ground-based. New technologies are introduced as the show's first season progresses, including flight packs, [[WaveMotionGun radiation waves and hadron cannons]].
** By the middle of its second season, the main named mecha in the show have become flying {{Super Prototype}}s with [[WaveMotionGun radiation waves, hadron cannons]] and [[BeehiveBarrier Beehive Barriers]], only one year after the end of the first season. For comparison, this would be like going from the first jet fighters of UsefulNotes/WorldWarII seven years before the series, to VietnamWar era fighters at the start of the first season, and then the bleeding-edge RealLife [[CoolPlane Cool Planes]] of the modern age only a year later.
* ''Anime/TengenToppaGurrenLagann'' does this with the title HumongousMecha. The heroes start out with a little robot the size of a car (the Lagann), but by the end of the series, [[spoiler:becomes the nucleus of a gargantuan battle beast that can hurl ''galaxies'' as shurikens.]] It also does this with awesomeness. HandWaved on the grounds that [[spoiler:the entire universe is powered by Spiral Energy, which causes the scale of events to spiral outward like this.]] Of course, it helps that [[spoiler:every major upgrade save the last one is achieved not through actual technological development but rather by stealing technology from enemies or finding technology of the defeated previous Spiral Warriors.]] Indeed, it's heavily implied that at least some of it [[spoiler:isn't even "real" technology at ''all'', but rather Spiral energy made manifest.]]
* ''Anime/GunBuster'' engages in some of this as well, going from fairly sci-fi standard space vessels and Gundam-ish robots to [[spoiler: using Jupiter as the core of a Black Hole Bomb to destroy the center of the galaxy to wipe out the race that wants to kill humanity.]]
* There's an absolutely hilarious parody of this in the fifth episode of the first season of ''RozenMaiden''. It has to be seen to be believed.
* The ''Anime/{{Macross}}'' franchise is a subdued version, by virtue of there not being an overarching bad guy for the heroes to have an arms race against. There was a big jump in the original ''Anime/SuperDimensionFortressMacross'' as mankind used salvaged alien technology to build giant spaceships and transforming HumongousMecha, but since then, not much has really changed in the sixty-or-so year time span of the franchise besides a shift to energy-based weapons, some more portable and advanced FasterThanLight drives, and increased use of AI-controlled drones, with the only big development being DME weaponry (a space-time warping weapon, which is really just a weaponized extension of the aforementioned FTL tech), which is capable, if built on a large enough scale, of an EarthShatteringKaboom.
* ''Anime/TransformersSuperGodmasterforce'' has one of these between the Autobots and Decepticons, as both sides develop more and more powerful upgrades for their commanders.
* ''Anime/GaoGaiGar'' escalates rapidly, especially when the show starts GrowingTheBeard. When the series starts, a single monster mostly threatens a skyscraper, the enemy spends most of its efforts to make a single Zonder metal plant, and at the end of the arc, nearly transforms 75% of the city into one. By the end, nearly every monster is its own plant, and the final battle [[spoiler: is fought against the moons of Jupiter]]
** The villains of ''[[Anime/GaoGaiGar Gao Gai Gar Final]]'' takes the logical next step by creating [[spoiler:an evil duplicate of the Solar System, powered by a sun made of G-Stones.]] To which the heroes respond by revealing what they'd built to deal with threats at the level of the aforementioned battle [[spoiler:on Jupiter]]: a [[DropTheHammer a hammer that crushes the sun]].
* Based on the booklet of ''Audioplay/StrikerSSoundStageX'', this trope led to the destruction of [[TheEmpire Ancient Belka]] in ''Franchise/LyricalNanoha''. With the Ancient Belkan War entering a deadlock, the various factions promoted weapon research more intensely. Eventually, a weapon that proved too powerful was either used or became unstable, [[TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt and the Ancient Belkan empire, together with the majority of its people, was wiped out]], prematurely ending the war. This sequence happens repeatedly in the universe. Al-hazard destroyed itself; survivors settled Belka. Belka destroyed itself; survivors settled Midchilda. Midchilda... almost destroyed itself, but turned back in time. So far.
** And the race is re-started again in ''Manga/MagicalRecordLyricalNanohaForce'' with the Dividers able to render useless any magical weaponry showed at the time thus forcing the TSAB to take a risk by making weapons that convert magic into conventional energy to power up physical attacks, getting closer and closer to breaking their once stone settled ban on mass-based weaponry.
* ''Manga/GetterRobo'' starts off with a single HumongousMecha fighting monsters, to every nation on Earth having them and engaging in conflicts of World War proportions, to epic wars in space between galaxies. The action grows in scale and the mecha in size rapidly from there, and peaks at the point where [[spoiler: one of the mecha is ''larger than galaxies'' and can stand toe-to-toe with God]]. Overall, this series is something of a {{Deconstruction}} of the idea. The main characters are trapped in a Lensman Arms Race because the Getter Rays, the energy of {{evolution|aryLevels}}, keeps pushing them forward regardless of the consequences for the universe. The antagonists are fighting them to prevent this, but by attacking humanity they only make them stronger. This results in a vicious cycle of increasingly escalating power that will eventually destroy the universe.
* In ''Manga/{{Claymore}}'' this trope turns out to be the real reason [[spoiler:Claymores and related demonic hybrid beings are developed. The nation is gearing up for a war with another nation that has successfully militarized ''dragons'' of all things.]]
* In ''Anime/GallForce'', the arms race between the paranoids and solnoids results first in {{Kill Sat}}s capable of an EarthShatteringKaboom, [[SerialEscalation and then logically proceeds to]] StarKilling {{Kill Sat}}s as the next logical step.
* ''Franchise/{{Zoids}}'' would dip into this from time to time but the most prominent example would be how the Ultrasaurus ended a 50 year war in a few months. A few years later, the Death Saurer was introduced and destroyed all opposition including the Ultrasaurus.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''WesternAnimation/TransformersAnimated'' comic "Everything Must Go". It is based on the Dr. Seuss book ''The Sneetches'', just replace the Sneetches with Lugnut and Blitzwing, the merchant with [[HonestJohnsDealership Swindle]], and the stars on their stomaches with every other weapon in ''Transformers'' mythos. This ends with [[spoiler:the destruction of New Kaon, after which Lugnut and Blitzwing catch on and rip Swindle apart]].
* IDW's Transformers fiction treats [[CombiningMecha Combiners]] as an equivalent to nuclear arms. The first, Monstructor, is a horrific abomination that was sealed away by Omega Supreme, and when the Decepticons learn about it, they pull out all the stops to try and acquire him in order to make their own. The Autobots, meanwhile, are so concerned about this happening they're willing to ''abandon Earth'' to Megatron to reclaim Monstructor.
** In ''ComicBook/TheTransformersAllHailMegatron'', the Decepticon have in fact managed to build their own Combiner, Devestator, who requires the aforementioned Omega Supreme to stop. In the follow-up series, Swindle's creation of Menasor is treated as the equivalent to an illegal nuclear weapon.
** The follow up series, ''ComicBook/TheTransformersMoreThanMeetsTheEye'' and ''ComicBook/TheTransformersRobotsInDisguise'', both show that the Decepticons have in fact been after the secrets to combining since the war ''began'', and it's part of the reason Megatron approached Shockwave in the first place. And the Decepticons aren't above the odd unethical experiments to get it, even causing one or two 'Cons to [[EvenEvilHasStandards defect in disgust]]. The metaphor is taken to its conclusion when the Autobots finally get their own combiner, Superion, and it's played as an OhCrap moment.
* This is a major plot point in ''ComicBook/TheUltimates'', crossed with GeneticEngineeringIsTheNewNuke. After the public debut of the Ultimates, various foreign nations begin trying put together their own teams of superhumans, such as ComicBook/AlphaFlight and the Liberators. The final arc by Creator/MarkMillar has the Ultimates racing to stop military dictatorships like North Korea from developing their own superhumans.
* Comes up if you read a lot of ''ComicBook/XMen''. Of the original five members, the strongest hero, Beast, had the strength of a gorilla. Over several decades, the "strongest hero" title has passed around to Colossus (who can fight Comicbook/TheIncredibleHulk), Rogue (during a time where she could fight the Hulk and fly), Phoenix (who could destroy minds and eat suns), [[ComicBook/SubMariner Namor]] (able to fight the Hulk and fly, plus half a century of combat experience and an army of monsters on call), ComicBook/{{Magneto}} (who can ''break the planet'' if he wants), and others. Beast himself has gotten much stronger, once casually mentioning the ability to bench press 70 ''tons'', and this ''still'' doesn't put him anywhere near top-tier. Meanwhile their enemies have followed suit: the Sentinels began as mere 12-foot-tall rebel robots; they gained teleportation, have created duplicate heroes, got used by cyborg hate groups, have grown big enough to kill whole countries or small enough to mimic an illness in mutants...

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* ''Fanfic/SuddenContact'': The aftermath of the Great War leads to the breakdown of relative peace in both [[Franchise/MassEffect Citadel ]]space and the [[Franchise/{{Starcraft}} Koprulu]] sector, leading to the development of, among others, newly advanced powered armors and the [[PortalNetwork Waygate system]], a psuedo Mass Relay system.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* The Doomsday Weapon from ''Film/DrStrangelove'' was built by the Americans to reach an unsurpassable upper hand over the Soviets. However, GeneralRipper launches his attack on Russia before the weapon is announced, creating the ForegoneConclusion to the movie. And a nuclear holocaust can't stop the arms race, because now the Americans have to move people into mine shafts as they wait out the radioactivity on the surface. Fearing the Soviets will move more people into mine shafts and have superior numbers when they emerge, Buck Turgidson declares, "We can't allow a mine shaft gap!"
* In the film ''Film/TheMenWhoStareAtGoats'', and the book its based on, ''and'' in real life, the United States Army started research on new age and psychic powers because they heard Soviets were researching those things as well. The Soviets supposedly started the research because they heard a rumour the Americans has started research...
* This is going on in the Franchise/MarvelCinematicUniverse.
** When the Tesseract is introduced in ''Film/CaptainAmericaTheFirstAvenger'' it was used to produce weapons by the Red Skull, and when put into the hands of the good guys for the next 70 years it was deemed too dangerous to experiment on. In response to the discovery of Asguardians in ''Film/{{Thor}}'', S.H.I.E.L.D. started looking into tapping into the Tesseract again, which is where ''Film/{{The Avengers|2012}}'' starts off. Loki is tasked to retrieve the Tesseract and use it to return it to Thanos, bringing in the alien Chitauri army to Earth. Once fended off by the Avengers, ComicBook/{{Thanos}} is informed that Earth is much more dangerous than they expected and that only seemed to make him ''more'' interested in us. Later films in the MCU introduce more items like the Tesseract and identifies them as the Infinity Gems, which will reach a head in ''Film/AvengersInfinityWar'' where Earth will be a battleground for control of the remaining Infinity Gems.
** On a smaller scale, ''Film/IronMan2'' has the US government trying to take the Iron Man tech because they're afraid other nations will copy and mass-produce it before they can. Stark counters with evidence that enemy nations' attempts at this are failing hilariously, but nonetheless shows that they're trying. Then Ivan Vanko shows up and proves that Tony's not the only genius who can do make advanced powered armor tech, adding fuel to the government's arguments. By ''Film/IronMan3'' Tony is trying to leapfrog himself, building faulty armors, because of his fear of not being prepared for new threats.
* ''Film/KungFuHustle'':
** The Crocodile Gang attacks a police station, beating up the cops. They are attacked when they leave the station by the Axe Gang. Then the Axe Gang intimidates the people of Pig Sty (including the petty criminal protagonist [[NonActionGuy Sing]], until three seemingly ordinary tenement residents reveal themselves as kung-fu masters, and defeat the Axe Gang. So the Axe Gang recruits two assassins, who go to Pig Sty and kill the three heroes, ''but then'' Landlord and Landlady reveal themselves as even greater masters, and defeat them. So now the Axe Gang recruits the most dangerous master of all, the Beast, who defeats Landlord and Landlady. Now more powerful than the entire Axe Gang, the Beast returns to Pig Sty, but discovers Sing has transformed into a true master.
** Worth mentioning that Sing, now a redeemed man, ends the cycle of escalation using a technique named after the Buddha, defeating the Beast without killing.
* The Film/DCExtendedUniverse has this happening almost instantly, using the dramatic events of ''Film/ManOfSteel'' as a springboard.
** ''Film/BatmanVSupermanDawnOfJustice'' shows that having a being as insanely powerful as Superman dramatically alters world politics but also inspires certain individuals to try and provide countermeasures to him. Batman and Lex ended up fighting for control of a large chunk of [[KryptoniteFactor Kryptonite]], the only thing that can harm Superman. By the end of the film it is speculated that [[GreaterScopeVillain something bad is on the horizon]], and they'll need to [[Film/JusticeLeague unite a team to face it]].
** ''Film/SuicideSquad2016'' suggests that this BoxedCrook team would be another factor in trying to ward off Superman in case he turns against the world. Before Superman the knowledge of metahumans was kept to a minimum, but ever since he showed up he's been a "beacon" to pull them out of the shadows. [[spoiler: The actual film is set after the events of ''Film/BatmanVSupermanDawnOfJustice'', where Superman dies, so it's revealed that the Suicide Squad was formed to ward off "the next Superman".]]
* The ''Franchise/StarWars'' franchise has TheEmpire and its successors doing this. There was the original Death Star which could blow up a planet. The second Death Star was even bigger and an improved close range defense. The novels gave us the Sun Crusher which does what its name indicates. ''Film/TheForceAwakens'' has Star Killer Base, which is an entire planet that uses an entire sun to power its weapon that can destroy multiple planets at the same time from light years away.

* ''Literature/{{Lensman}}'' also gave us the Sunbeam; a whole star system altered to function as core, coil and vacuum tubes for a beam that directs the full power of the star into a fleet- and planet-annihilating beam. Lensmen and their rivals, Boskone, routinely flung ''planets'' at one another at relativistic speed in lieu of normal relativistic projectiles found in other novels. By the end they develop a way, both sides, to create wormholes that allow them to fire FTL planets at one another from intergalactic distances. Nevermind the fact that, originally, their "Super-Mauler" class battleships were created to ''kill relativistic planets'' in battle, and by the end both sides were producing them by the tens of millions and using them as frontline battleships. [[NoKillLikeOverkill They mass-produced Death Stars!]] Ironically the Super-Maulers proved ineffective...because the Boskone forcefield tech was amped up before they were deployed, ergo they simply started using them as battleships instead. The Sunbeam was considered a ''stop gap'' against relativistic planet bombardment until they developed something better.
** The FTL antimatter planetoid projectiles mentioned in the opening paragraphs? Yeah they start mass producing those as well. Including smaller ones designed to be launched from bomber squadrons, and whole fleets of them to be used as interstellar bombardment against enemy planets and star systems. This was also considered a minor footnote by the end, where their [[WaveMotionGun FTL planets launched from wormholes]] could destroy star systems from intergalactic distances.
** The Lensmen at one point were thrown into another dimension where the laws of physics are different. After finally figuring out how to return to their home dimension, they went back to the other dimension and modified two planets to be thrown at Boskone. When they did, the "foreign" planets hit the Boskone planets at [[ReadingsAreOffTheScale 15+ times]] the speed of '''light'''.
* A second, in some ways even more ridiculous, example from Creator/EEDocSmith is his lesser-known SpaceOpera ''Literature/SkylarkSeries''. By the final novel in the sequence, our heroes destroy two entire galaxies by teleporting every star from one into the close vicinity of every star in the other, causing each pair to collide and go nova, meanwhile teleporting every non-hostile world in the area to safe orbits around stars in a third galaxy, all while they themselves are safe in yet another galaxy entirely...! And all this only ''four books'' (and, at the most, a few {{in-universe}} years) after the same human protagonists discovered space travel!
** In both the ''Lensman'' and ''Skylark'' series, Smith combines fast evolution of weapons with a crazily short research and development cycle. The antimatter bombs go from theory to practice in a few months. In his proto-''Lensman'' novel ''Triplanetary'', agents of the Triplanetary fleet refit their own side's guided missiles to accept guidance from a totally new, recently-discovered means of communication... in the middle of a battle. And it works. Of course, the crazily short R&D cycle was something of a commonplace in all the pulp science fiction of that era, and is echoed by accomplishments in WWII a conflict which started with prop-driven biplane fighters, 3- and 5-tonnes machine-gun armed tankettes and a general level of technology not much distanced from WWI and ending (six years later) with the battlefields bristling with 55-ton armoured behemoths, jet powered fighters and bombers, flying bombs, ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. "Doc" Smith was a Ph.D chemist who spent WWII developing explosives for the U.S. goverment, and most of the Lensmen books were published post-war.
** In ''Skylark'', the LensmanArmsRace only really gears up when the protagonists encounter a very ancient civilization whose [[PlanetOfHats Hat]] is Science. They have worked out pretty much everything thousands of years ago... too bad they didn't have any of the [[AppliedPhlebotinum atomic catalyst]] until the heroes showed up...
* Creator/DavidWeber:
** ''Literature/HonorHarrington''
*** though nowhere near as over-the-top as ''Lensman,'' [[note]]Much of the "new" tech is actually existing tech being used in new ways; the realism of this is hotly debated.[[/note]] the series started out as a RecycledInSpace retelling of English and French naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars, and the technology advances mirror actual advances in naval warfare. Smooth-bore cannons to rifled guns (multi-drive missiles). Armor ("bow and stern walls" energy shielding) to aircraft and aircraft carriers ([=LACs=] and [=CLACs=]) to radio (faster-than-light comms) to guided missiles (project Ghost Rider) to radar guided gunnery (Apollo). Submarines are creeping in with [[spoiler:the Mesans' new "stealth" spider drive, and their single-shot laser missile that behaves suspiciously like a homing torpedo.]]
*** As the series progresses the trope becomes stronger: [[spoiler:the Mesan Alignment]] reveal two new super-duper space drives, an entirely new biological "mind control" weapon, and that's just the first few things we've seen coming from their centuries-long supersecret R&D program.
*** ''Literature/HonorHarrington'' also shows what happens when said two sides team up to defeat a third group armed [[CurbStompBattle with equipment that's twenty years of constant warfare out of date]].
** Weber's ''Literature/{{Starfire}}'' series showcases realistically depicted arms races spurred on by the current conflict, with specific technologies and tactics being designed to counter the enemy's latest gimmick, while at the same time still managing to follow the respective races' (often) wildly divergent military doctrines.
** It also shows up in a TechnologyUplift set-up in the ''Literature/{{Safehold}}'' books, and in his standalone novel ''Literature/TheExcaliburAlternative.'' ''Literature/{{Safehold}}'' in particular is all about invoking this trope, as the main character, Merlin Athrawes, tries to bring the LostColony of Safehold out of its MedievalStasis by helping introduce innovations to one country to force the rest to try and catch up.
* See Creator/DrSeuss' ''Literature/TheButterBattleBook'' for a version of this trope in poem form as a [[SatireParodyPastiche satire]] of the UsefulNotes/ColdWar.
* Subverted in the ArthurCClarke short story ''Superiority'', where the side which tries out the new technology in battle (without adequate field tests) ''loses''. This was a clear allegory for UsefulNotes/WorldWarII and the German investment in "superweapons" and [[AwesomeButImpractical over-engineered supertanks]] as compared to the Allied investment in, for lack of a better term, [[ZergRush Mnogo Tanks]][[note]]And planes, and machine guns...[[/note]] (for both the US and USSR). Lesson: In industrial war, industrial capacity is more important than the quality of the weapons. Unless, of course, your weapon is The Bomb...
* ''Computer War'', by Mack Reynolds, is similar to ''Superiority''. For example, the advanced side uses alarms that can detect laser fire to help guard their buildings -- which are useless, as the saboteurs [[RockBeatsLaser use bows and arrows]] to kill the guards. Also, although this side has a massive conventional military advantage, the weaker side is winning by fighting guerrilla-style, and only in easily defensible terrain (mountains, swamps).
* Played with in Creator/PhilipKDick's ''The Zap Gun'', where a pair of weapons designers, one on each side of the Cold War, are continually coming up with what are ostensibly new weapons. In reality, though, everything they come up with is immediately repurposed into harmless knick-knacks. This helps keep the Cold War cold, but proves disastrous once aliens invade, and the world is defenseless. They end up getting the aliens to leave by [[spoiler:getting them addicted to a video game.]]
* In the German pulp SciFi series ''Literature/PerryRhodan'' (started in 1961 and still running), the story started with the title character, Perry Rhodan, being the first human to land on the moon. 10 issues in, he was commanding an interstellar cruiser, and in another ten issues in he achieved {{immortality}}.\\\
More than 2000 issues followed and stuff grew grander and grander in scale: Cosmic Powers of [[OrderVersusChaos Order and Chaos]], called "Kosmokrats" and "Chaotarches" by the less-advanced races, are forever fighting for supremacy, using mortal species and even [[AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence ascended beings]] as [[UnwittingPawn chess pieces]] because they cannot interfere directly. The Chaotarchs try to literally [[OmnicidalManiac unmake the laws of physics]] and return the [[TheMultiverse multiple universes]] to a state of ur-chaos where they can thrive, while the Kosmokrats [[{{Precursors}} seed life and sentience]] throughout the galaxies and try to defend the "cosmic code" from tampering.
** While the Kosmokrats appeared to be the Good Guys in the beginning (sponsoring space-faring races, granting immortality to certain exceptional individuals to further their plans) it became more and more apparent that they behaved like the Vorlons from [[Series/BabylonFive Babylon 5]] in that they treated "lesser" races like chess pawns, and reacted badly to anyone trying to leave their service. As they claimed, [[UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans they saw a bigger picture]]. Existing outside time and space, these transcendent entities were [[AGodAmI no longer able to imagine or sympathize]] with the plight of mortal races, even though they had started out as whole races of mortal species eons ago.
** Turns out the cosmic superweapons of the Kosmokrats were often just as destructive as those of the Chaotarchs; in one instance, servitors of the Kosmokrats were ordered to destroy a whole galaxy (and all civilizations in it) down to the subatomic level rather than seeing it fall into the Chaotarchs' hands. Somewhere in midseries, Perry Rhodan [[DidYouJustFlipOffCthulhu showed them the finger]] in parallel to what happened in ''Series/BabylonFive''.
* StephenBaxter's ''Ring'': The [[Literature/XeeleeSequence Xeelee]] use cosmic strings to build a [[OurWormholesAreDifferent Kerr metric]] with which they can [[spoiler:escape into another universe]]. This structure (the Ring) is so massive that it is pulling all ''galaxies'' for quite some distance towards it, at high speed. The Xeelee's antagonists, the Photino Birds, go one up on this by [[spoiler:arranging galaxies around the Ring to form a resonance cavity that will shake the Ring apart]].
* ''Literature/BelisariusSeries'': The series starts out with fairly normal armies for the late antiquity or early middle ages. In particular, heavy cavalry is hugely emphasized. Thanks to AlienSpaceBats, however, they start moving up the tech tree very rapidly. It starts with primitive gunpowder weapons such as handheld rockets and siege cannons. By the end of the series, they're using breach mounted rifles, ironclads, and radio.
** In an alternate future where only one of the two sides comes back to the past, we also see the bad guys developing tanks. It didn't happen in the main series timeline because they started the war far earlier, so the bad guys didn't have as much time to prepare.
* Norman Spinrad's ''Literature/TheIronDream.'' The body of the book is (ostensibly) an award-winning novel from an alternate universe where UsefulNotes/AdolfHitler migrated to the United States and became a science fiction writer. Over the course of the novel-within-the-novel, the hero and his cohorts develop (or reinvent) technology at an astonishing pace until a final confrontation with the villain unleashes nuclear weapons and forces the heroes to invent cloning technology and interstellar space travel in no time flat. The book deliberately takes advantage of established tropes in science fiction and fantasy to try and force a comparison with Nazism. Although it is patently satiric, some readers have [[MisaimedFandom taken it at face value]] (including the American Nazi Party), thus subverting the subversion.
* In a rare fantasy example, ''Literature/TheWheelOfTime''. The first book has fireballs and single bolts of lightning as enormous feats of power, and the idea of facing down 1500 [[AllTrollsAreDifferent Trollocs]] is an earth-shattering prospect. By the book 11, we're at uses of magic that can melt the planet if performed incorrectly, and an attack by 100,000 Trollocs is considered an assassination attempt.
** Unlike many examples of this trope, though, it was planned from the start. The story revolves around prophesies of TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt, and the DistantPrologue of the first book features a channeler creating a volcano by accident, so the potential was there all along. [[spoiler: Especially since said channeler is the past incarnation of the main character.]]
* In Creator/AlanDeanFoster's ''Literature/HumanxCommonwealth'' universe, this occurred between two [[{{Precursors}} Precursor]] races in the series' BackStory. The Tar-Aiym were individually powerful, warlike, and technologically advanced; while the Hur'rikku were prolific and persistent. Panicked by the Hur'rikku threat to use their planet-destroying anticollapsar weapon on Tar-Aiym worlds, the latter embarked on a hurried program of weapons development. The program eventually led to the release of a "photonic storm", a plague that travelled from world to world, wiping out all life forms more complex than single-celled organisms over a vast region of the galaxy, including the Tar-Aiym and Hur'rikku themselves. 500,000 years later, this region becomes known to the expanding Commonwealth as the Blight.
** It later turns out that the Tar-Aiym constructed, but never used, an entire artificial planetoid constructed entirely out of Krangs, a single one of which is enough to destroy a fleet and the combined might of all of them is sufficient to rip a hole across spacetime that can destroy entire star systems. And when that weapon [[TheWorfBarrage proves ineffective]] against the [[UltimateEvil Great Evil]], TheHero Flinx has to go looking for an even bigger one built by an even older race.
* In ''Literature/TheEschatonSeries'' by Creator/CharlesStross, this is slated to happen at some point in the future. Albeit one-sided as Eschaton, in a simple display of its power drew humans from all different time periods and scattered them across the stars. [[spoiler:The other side in this arms race is a Nazi cult that uses mind uploads to store knowledge. Somehow in the future they're able to get power fast enough to avoid being warped into a blackhole. The "present" of the series shows that whatever they developed, it was stronger than Eschaton and that it was achieved pretty quickly in order for it to beat Eschaton's omniscience and omnipresence.]]
* Something of a subversion in the Frank Herbert short story ''Cease Fire''. The war is in something of a standoff, with both sides using small manned stations. A techie invents a device to detect and remotely detonate the power supplies in these hidden bunkers, ending the fighting at a stroke. The military top brass are deeply upset at this discovery, because they know that HumansAreBastards and destroying the effectiveness of this relatively clean style of warfare will only mean that in a generation or two humanity will escalate to something worse in order to wage war. They're proved right by the afternote, which implies that biological weapons became dominant in the next major conflict.
* Briefly referenced in ''Discworld/SmallGods'', with regard to the Moving Turtle (a steam tank designed by the young philosopher Urn). In the event, though, it doesn't come to that, partly because the Turtle doesn't work ([[spoiler: [[TimePolice Lu-Tze]] can spot something that could change history, and takes steps]]) and partly because [[spoiler: Om forces the other gods to stop the war altogether.]]
-->"What if we do keep it? It'll be a... a deterrent to other tyrants!"\\
"You think tyrants won't build 'em too?"\\
"Well... I can build bigger ones!" Urn shouted.\\
Didactylos sagged. "Yes," he said. "No doubt you can. So that's all right, then. My word. And to think I was worrying."
** On the Disc, the use of war elephants is pretty much this trope. The elephants themselves aren't much good for anything but spooking their own cavalry and trampling their own infantry, but [[ArmchairMilitary the finest military minds of the world]] have decided to keep making them bigger and more impressive.
* ''TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering'' novel ''The Brother's War'' has the title war between two nations consist of an increasing arms race mostly fueled by the title [[CainAndAbel Brothers]]. Starting out with a few scavenged and re-fitted machines left behind by the Precursors, and ending with giant mechanical dragons, flights of Da'Vinci-esque fliers, robot soldiers, combining mechs, and shapeshifting clay golems.
* Creator/KurtVonnegut wrote a book, ''Literature/CatsCradle'', in which something has been invented which could totally wipe out all life on Earth. Try to guess whether or not the two powers involved in the real life nuclear arms race of that time fall over one another trying to be the first to acquire it.
** And of course, [[spoiler: it's an insane 3rd party that accidentally unleashes the thing, destroying the world, illustrating the inherent danger and instability of any Mutually Assured Destruction scenario (like the cold war).]]
* David Wingrove's ''Literature/ChungKuo'' novels have a period of this, after Stefan Lehmann's attempt to conquer Europe through brute strength stalls. The front line in his war against Li Yuan's forces becomes suicidally uninhabitable as both sides seed no-mans land with increasingly deadly drones and smart mines, and the stalemate is only broken when the BigBad Howard Devore arrives and tries to annihilate all life on Earth.
* The ''Franchise/StarTrek'' novel ''Final Frontier'' by Diane Carey ('''not''' the novelization of the movie) claimed that the Romulans developed the cloaking device because ''Enterprise'''s first captain (with Kirk's father as his second-in-command) tricked them into believing the Federation had one.
* Creator/DavidDrake's ''Literature/{{Northworld}}'' trilogy includes a planet of "giants" (basically, people who are 5 feet tall and five feet wide, strong as can be, smarter than normal people; it's based on Norse myths) who live in isolated citadel-cities, and who are constantly at war with one another, building more powerful weapons, tanks, etc. The engineer, Ritter, is a super-genius who could win the war for his citadel yesterday, but he only designs ''slightly'' better weapons because if he did it wouldn't be fun any more.
* Explicitly referenced in Creator/LarryNiven's ''[[http://www.larryniven.net/stories/downinflames.shtml Down in Flames]]'', a tongue-in-cheek outline for his [[TorchTheFranchiseAndRun last]] Literature/KnownSpace novel. "Before it's over, we'll need billions of [[PostHuman human protectors]]. It's a Flash Gordon/E.E. Smith war, with superior Tnuctip technology battling tools and weapons worked up on the spot by a billion Dr. Zarkovs. [...] I'm not strongly tempted to write this story. The scale of things near the end gets bigger than I like."
* Happens over the course of ''Literature/ShadowsOfTheApt''. In the first book, they have crossbows, slow flying machines, and crude gunpowder weapons. By the end snapbows (armour piercing, fast reloading guns based off of compressed air), fast and deadly ornithopters and fixed wing bombers, super heavy computer controlled artillery and spider tanks have completely changed military tactics. There are also radar analogues and lightning based super weapons.
* Not nearly as crazy as ''Lensman'', but the [[TheWarOfEarthlyAggression First Galactic War]] in ''Literature/TheHistoryOfTheGalaxy'' is a good example of technological escalation taking place over the decades-long conflict. [[NonindicativeName Despite the name]], the war was confined to a few dozen systems in our corner of the galaxy. The technologically-advanced and militarized [[TheEmpire Earth Alliance]] attempts to subjugate the disparate and largely peaceful colonies in order to forcibly offload excess population from the homeworld. However, the colonies band together and form a unified front, despite, initially, using a rag-tag fleet of converted ships to counter Earth's strike fleet, and the projected quick conflict turns into the bloodiest war in human history. First, the standard tanks and troop transports of the Alliance are surprisingly easily fought off by the colonists of the planet Dabog using their unique {{Walking Tank}}s. Since then, nearly all manned planetary combat vehicles are of the walker type due to their superiority to the traditional treaded and wheeled vehicles. The Alliance starts producing better and more automated walkers with advanced AI systems, partnering them with human pilots for an unprecedented partnership. To counter them, the less advanced colonists mass produce their own walkers, relying on their superiority and determination. Eventually, the Alliance [=AIs=] get so good that, even in the event of the pilot's death, his AI can continue the fight using the same tactics and ferocity. The colonists counter with the development of the less advanced but cheaper and mass-produced AttackDrones of both walker and treaded variants, who lack true AI but can network together for coordinated attacks. In space, both sides try to outdo one another in more advanced and deadly weaponry with the Alliance, once again, placing its faith on greater automation and AI usage. The colonists eventually develop a WaveMotionGun that shoots a burst of AntiMatter that can obliterate a small planetoid and anything in the vicinity, which quickly becomes a deterrent-type weapon due to the uncontrolled nature of a matter/antimatter reaction and the inability to scale it down. The Alliance makes several failed attempts to get their hands on one. Even a thousand years after the war, its horrors are still present in humanity's racial memory, and many space and planetary graveyards are still home to roaming machines that are still attempting to fulfill their programming, and a good number of novels involve wartime echoes threatening to unleash destruction upon humanity again.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* John Criton does this single-handedly in ''Series/{{Farscape}}'' with his wormhole research. First he learns how to enter and fly in wormholes, from there he becomes an expert on discovering them when they open, then he learns to make wormhole weapons, the first can destroy a single ship by putting one opening in front of the ship and another in the corona of a star. The second and final wormhole weapon of the series is a black hole which nearly destroys the armadas of the two most powerful empires in the known galaxy. While this is happening Criton claims that the black hole could potentially destroy the entire galaxy.
* ''Series/DoctorWho'':
** Subverted in the serial "Genesis of the Daleks" - the war between the Kaleds and the Thals has been going for a thousand years. It started with nuclear bombs and chemical weapons. By its end, the two sides were using a mish-mash of lasers and WWII-era weaponry due to resources being diminished over the course of the war. In the end [[spoiler: the Kaled scientist Davros turns the "environmental suits" he was working on into the Daleks, who exterminate both sides.]]
** Played straight during the Last Great Time War betweem the Time Lords and the Daleks, culminating in not one, but two, reality-destroying weapons: [[spoiler:the Ultimate Sanction (where Rassilon plans to sacrifice all of Time for the sake of defeating the Daleks) and the Reality Bomb (where Davros created a machine to un-make all particles im existence)]]
* ''Series/StarTrekVoyager'' followed this trope to some extent in their clashes with Borg vessels. At the end of the third season of ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration'', which ''Voyager'' spun off from, a single Borg cube plowed through 40 starfleet ships trying to stop it (and an unknown number of klingon ships who bolstered them) and nearly assimilated Earth. By the middle of ''Voyager'', the title starship was single-handedly blowing Borg cubes out of space -- and they had to create the technology to do so while stranded 70,000 light-years away from the Federation.
* In ''Series/StargateSG1'', it is initially a miraculous feat for humanity to figure out how to even operate a piece of advanced alien technology, namely, the Stargate. This turns out to be a risky move as they run into the Goa'uld, an egomaniacal alien race which rules various interstellar empires by using their advanced technology to pose as gods. Early on in the show members of Star Gate Command have to use ingenuity to adapt modern day weapons and what little alien technology they understand into methods of combating the much more advanced Goa'uld.
** In less than a decade, the SGC goes from special ops guerrilla tactics, and firing missiles through the stargate, to commanding a fleet of Earth-built interstellar starships. Most of this advancement happens after season 6 or so when Earth's first starship, the ''Prometheus'', is completed and the US starts making squadrons of F-302 space fighters.
** Replicators, however, take the cake. This race of sentient lego bricks which form into spiders and endlessly build more of themselves were a threat so advanced even the Asgard, a race that could pimp smack the Goa'uld, have to devote most of their resources to fighting them. At first it is mankind's more primitive way of thinking that allows us to stand toe to toe with this menace. Since their replicator blocks are based on "kiron" pathways, an energy particle humans had not even discovered, [=SG1=] decided the best response to a replicator threat was [[KineticWeaponsAreJustBetter flying chunks of metal]]. This seems to work until the Asgard decide to screw it up by trapping the replicators in a time dilation field. Their stupidly brilliant plan backfires when the replicators are able to reverse the time dilation device just before it activates and advance thousands of years, creating new humanoid replicators (made up of nanobots instead of cells) that are immune to shotgun blasts! Not to worry though, because thanks to [=SG1=] the device was reset properly, freezing the replicators in time just long enough for humanity to learn how to make a weapon that destroys kiron pathways.
* ''Franchise/PowerRangers'':
** ''Series/PowerRangersRPM'' had one of the more obvious and implicit examples: it is directly stated that, due to the robotic nature of Venjix and his forces, the Power Rangers' weapons will eventually become completely useless. As the series progresses the Zords they start with go from being able to deal with the monsters directly, to becoming inevitably obsolete in a few episodes, and likewise every few episodes a new Megazord, batch of Zords, or both is added to compete. By the end, it becomes a major plot point that Venjix is going to outmaneuver them if left to grow unchecked.
*** Put in perspective: in episode one, a year or so after the machine uprising, the RPM Rangers could still defeat Venjix's machines with their basic weapons, maybe needed a megazord. But machines progress faster than humans, and Venjix is shown openly learning from each defeat, so by the time of the Carrier Zords ('''ALL''' the Carriers, they needed '''THREE''') show up they basically were only good enough to fight the enemy toe-to-toe, and not the Ultimate Battle System as such weapons are usually depicted. Venjix had ''already'' developed counters to them and was on his way to building a fleet of machines to overwhelm them. And again, this is probably the only Ranger team where three, separate Ultimate Battle Systems are necessary to fight the enemy--the Croc Carrier early on, almost immediately rendered useless by Venjix's evolving army, the Mammoth Carrier which useful for a while then immediately replaced by the Whale Carrier unit, which is within a few episodes shown to be outclassed by Venjix's evolving forces. So either they find a way to stop him fast, or he wins inevitably with no possible safeguard against him. In a way it makes the 'ho-hum, lost again, better luck next time I guess' response of Venjix after every battle make a lot of sense. He doesn't care if he lost, he'll start over again better than before. And by the ''very'' end, Venjix had basically won completely and was defeated almost exclusively because of a combination of luck, stupidity and the grace of God!
** In a reverse of the above, ''Series/PowerRangersZeo'' explained early that the Zeo powers were based on, basically, a perpetual energy machine: i.e., they continue to get stronger over time. While the Machine Empire, led by King Mondo, prove to be their equals or betters at first by the arrival of the Gold Ranger this is completely the opposite. The addition of a new Carrier Zord, the Warrior Wheel, Super Zeo Megazord and various other gadgets basically seals the Machine Empire's fate. By the end of the series, the Zeo Rangers were fighting Mondo directly without the need for Zords at all in the final episode...something that would have been literally impossible at the beginning. Unfortunately the Zeo powers were lost, and to say the least they got kicked back beyond even square one for the next season, ''Turbo''.

[[folder:Pro Wrestling]]
* This has happened to professional wrestling as a whole, although it has been most drastically visible outside of Wrestling/{{WWE}} in the past decade. Moves that were considered devastating once-a-match nearfalls in the 70s, like the piledriver and the vertical suplex, have since become mundane moves. The powerbomb, considered the scariest and most dangerous move in the business when it was popularized in the mid 90s, is occasionally used as a mid-match move by modern wrestlers like Wrestling/SamoaJoe. WWE eventually took measures to curb this by implementing a "safe style" in 2005 in order to minimize the health hazards of the more dangerous moves being invented (as well as ensure that classic finishers like the Stunner, choke slam, and power bomb still looked effective), but the wrestling world outside WWE continues to invent crazier head drops and more spectacular flips. This has the double effect of making older moves look weak and threatening wrestlers' health.
* [[Wrestling/{{FMW}} Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling]], started off with a relatively normal premise of pro wrestlers fighting martial artists of different styles but quickly became the most violent pro wrestling promotion the world had ever seen, combining the use of brawling, barbed wire and fire seen in the Southern USA (particularly Wrestling/JerryLawler's promotions) and Puerto Rico(primarily CSP/WWC), at one point actually partially melting a ring. Victor Quiñones would breakaway from to start two more promotions, W*ING and IWA Japan, that would then directly compete with FMW by using the same style. Soon there were scythes, boiling water, electricity and explosives being implemented in matches Giant Baba would [[TropeNamer describe]] as GarbageWrestling. After the decline of these three no major promotion would again reach these heights, though FMW itself continued to exist as the "winner".
* Wrestling/AllJapanProWrestling has a particularly awful case, extending to its splinter-rival, Wrestling/ProWrestlingNOAH. The old finishers like the Tiger Driver and Folding Powerbomb just didn't cut it, so new, more vicious and [[{{Squick}} head-dropping]] moves were invented to be the ''real'' finishers in big matches, so that the old finishers were now recurring moves. Then ''worse'' finishers got invented, leading to huge death-drops like the Burning Hammer and Tiger Driver '91. This is believed to have led to the eventual death of legend Wrestling/MitsuharuMisawa in the ring, as his neck could no longer take the punishment.
* The Wrestling/DragonGate promotion has been the worst offender of the new millennium, in the case of finishing moves. CIMA's Schwein went from instant victory to repeated nearfall in just three years; Naruki Doi's Bakutare Sliding Kick was reduced to TheWorfBarrage; and Shingo Takagi's Last Falconry was replaced by an upgraded version that failed to keep opponents down (the renamed Original Falconry became a low-level impact move) while his death finisher, MADE IN JAPAN, suffered such BadassDecay that Shingo's rival [=BxB=] Hulk was able to survive three of them.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Although it's often possible to win through peaceful means such as election or AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence, due to the existence of the TechTree, this is usually what happens in [[FourX 4X games]] round about the midgame. In ''Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri'', for example, it's entirely possible to start a vendetta with a Chaos Gun (level 8 offense) and have a Quantum Laser (level 16 offense) by the end, and that's if the vendetta finishes relatively quickly.
* This is a key part of all the ''VideoGame/{{Civilization}}'' games. At the beginning of the game you are basically throwing rocks at each other and by the end you are using stealth bombers, atomic bombs and giant mecha.
* This also occurs within, and over the course of, the ''[[{{VideoGame/XCOM}} X-COM]]'' games. The [[VideoGame/XCOMUFODefense first game]] starts on New Year's with a group of soldiers, rifles, and rocket launchers. They've got lasers before the end of February. Around April, they're using alien plasma cannons that can burn through almost anything, and wearing armor made out of the hull metals of captured [=UFOs=]. Around the end of the summer, they're wearing PoweredArmor and firing guided missiles that are even more powerful. Around October they can fly, and they ride a ship that can travel to Mars. Around November, at the latest, they're all psychic. The second game features much the same thing, but underwater (it's basically a carbon copy of the first game, so no advancement is expected). Chronologically, we then travel to The Frontier(TM) region of space and by the end of the game, we can travel ''through black holes'' to reach pocket dimensions, and have a bomb that can ''force supernovas from suns''. And then ''[[VideoGame/XCOMApocalypse Apocalypse]]'' just goes ''nuts''.
* In ''VideoGame/MarioAndLuigiPaperJam'' both good guys and bad guys are constantly building huge papercraft figures to do battle with each other.
* If series like ''Gundam'' and ''Getter'' feature this, surely putting the two of them together in ''VideoGame/SuperRobotWars'' games, along with a ton of other mecha, leads to this in spades. Let's put it this way: In one game, you get the Zeta Gundam (fresh off the production line, plans drawn less than a month ago) and the mass-produced version of the Zeta Gundam, the Re-GZ, at the exact same time. In ''Alpha Gaiden'', [[Anime/MobileSuitZetaGundam Kamille Bidan]] comments that [[Anime/MobileSuitGundamWing Heero Yuy's]] Wing Zero must have been developed before mobile suits were even invented. This isn't counting the fact that the V2 Assault Buster Gundam, mentioned above, is rolled out of the factory within a few years of the original RX-78 Gundam. So Yeah.
* This is also found in ''VideoGame/GalacticCivilizations II''. In fact, since one of the game's major gimmicks is the detailed customizability of the player's units, a great deal of the game is spent not just advancing up the (broad) tech tree, but also finding new and effective weapon and defense combinations for individual ships. The expansion packs, of course, add even more ridiculous technology, until by the end of the last expansion, you can build your own ''customized Death Star''.
* ''VideoGame/EveOnline'' is heading to this direction with the proliferation of Titans, ships so large that their gravitational pull can mess with the tides of the planet they're orbiting. The current count for Titans owned by players is measured in hundreds, and the NPC empires are implied to have even more.
* A variation of this occurs towards the end of ''VideoGame/TIEFighter''. The Empire has just built the more durable TIE Defender to deal with Rebel starfighters. Then Grand Admiral Zaarin steals a few dozen TIE Defenders and stages a coup. Thus the Empire is, from a certain point of view, in an arms race with itself. They counter the TIE Defender with the Missile Boat, a starfighter loaded with as many warheads as it can carry.
* ''VideoGame/{{Homeworld}}'' actually manages to incorporate the Lensman-like game mechanics directly into its plot (and incidentally, the game is heavily inspired by the Lensman books).
* In ''VideoGame/StarControl'' the [[LovableCoward Spathi]] backstory is that they were peaceful primitive people when some new predator showed up and started eating them, in an attempt to deal with the new threat they progressed from stone tools to atomic technology in less then a 100 years...
* In ''VideoGame/MasterOfOrion II'' the player starts out with electronics, nukes, titanium armor, and lasers. By the endgame, they will be messing around with mining shafts that reach into a planets core, electron-state computing, artificial planets, neutronium, phasing cloaks, and low-level time travel.
* At the start of ''VideoGame/SwordOfTheStars'', all races begin with peashooters and lasers that couldn't light up a cigar. By the end, tiny destroyers have been replaced with gargantuan dreadnoughts armed with {{Wave Motion Gun}}s, and ColonyDrop weapons. The randomized tech tree adds excitement to the game. The sequel escalates to the even larger Leviathans that can turret-mount most of the old fixed weapons.
* ''SpaceEmpires'', of course, being a FourX game. You start with wimpy proton cannons, advance through the orchard of {{Tech Tree}}s, and end up able to commit galactic genocide through scorched earth tactics by turning all your enemies' systems into black holes.
* Happening in the ''VideoGame/{{MUGEN}}'' community with "[[UpToEleven Uber]]-[[GameBreaker Cheap]]" characters. We aren't talking about the likes of F1, Omega Tom Hanks, Rare Akuma, Legend Gogeta or A-Bomb here- these guys would die in seconds against an Uber-Cheap. We're talking about things like Creator/ChuckNorris (obviously), Oni-Miko-Zero (an edit of [[VideoGame/{{Touhou}} Reimu]] who KILLS the opponent ''before the battle starts''), various modifications of Orochi from ''VideoGame/TheKingOfFighters'' series, and other such chars that cause seizure with their flashy, deadly moves. If any of these are defeated, expect their next update to come back with immunity to the move that killed it.
** Right now, the lead seems to be taken by "[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyIowXFG9_U Debugger]]". Able to defeat all of the above, but [[CripplingOverspecialization only if run on Windows 7 or Vista]].
* The first [[VideoGame/CommandAndConquerTiberianSeries Tiberium War]] had GDI using what's basically the Abrams tank as it's main tank, and Nod using M2 Bradleys for their "Light Tank" The most advanced tech was arguably the Nod Obelisk of Light, which was fragile and extremely vulnerable to mass attacks and the GDI [[KillSat Orbital Ion Cannon that can destroy one building]]. Cut to The second Tiberium war and we have GDI WalkingTank war machines versus Nod {{Cyborg}} Supersoldiers, with one model in particular, the Titan, being a Main Battle Tank replacement and Prototype Railguns mounted on the expensive and extremely powerful Mammoth Mk. II. Following this, the Third war includes Rail gun retrofits for all GDI tanks, Laser ones for the Nod arsenal, Ion cannons that level entire bases and the Obelisk's latest incarnation is extremely durable and capable of sweeping a short beam over infantry squads to beat them. [[PoweredArmor Zone Armor]] EliteMooks start showing up. Then we have the Fourth War, where ''all the infantry'' are either in Zone armor for the GDI, or a Cyborg for Nod, Gigantic walking tanks that can rebuild themselves after taking massive damage, and all weapons are partially ionized.
* This kind of conflict led to the current situation in ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyX'', thanks to an arms race between Bevelle and Zanarkand that spiralled out of control and laid the world to waste. The still-active ultimate weapon of one side drives the plot of the game; [[VideoGame/FinalFantasyX2 the sequel]] deals with the other side's never-deployed ultimate weapon.
* ''VideoGame/StarRuler'': You start without practical lasers or missiles and only the basics for everything else. By lategame you can build {{Ringworld Planet}}s, casually even, go StarKilling through brute force firepower, cause EarthShatteringKaboom with point defence guns, build ClownCar [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rjwZPRnv08 carriers holding thousands of parasite battleships half its size]] and [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJJEMmzKzR4 build ships larger than the galaxy.]]
* ''VideoGame/{{Dominions}}'' does this with magic rather than technology. The early game typically consists of small scale battles between human armies with medieval weaponry. The endgame typically consists of [[EscapedFromHell dredging dead gods out of Tartarus]], arming them to the teeth with ancient magical artifacts, and using them as [[OneManArmy One Man Armies]].
* Used as a handwave for the Gun Runners' Arsenal DLC in ''VideoGame/FalloutNewVegas''. When the DLC is installed, the player gets the message that because of the escalating war, the various weapon vendors are bringing out brand new stock, including weaponry, mods and ammo types.
* In ''VideoGame/MassEffect1'' it's the reason why weapons go through so many roman numerals, and why the [[AIIsACrapshoot Geth]] introduced thermal clips in the [[VideoGame/MassEffect2 2nd]].
** To fight back against the Reapers and their minions, technology jumps by leaps and bounds in the sequels. ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'' sees a reverse engineered Reaper dreadnought weapon mounted on the ''Normandy'' frigate. In ''VideoGame/MassEffect3'' the stealth technology pioneered by the Normandy in the first game is eventually applied by the Salarians to create ''stealth Dreadnoughts''.
* This is the eventual culmination of ''VideoGame/{{Evolve}}'''s plot after the game. Once knowledge of monsters becomes widespread, humans react by developing tactics and weapons specifically to counter them. The monsters, who before could wipe out entire worlds with a single individual, respond by upping their numbers and integrating technology into their forms. By the end of the war, massive hordes of biomechanical reality warping monsters are clashing with the full military might of three galactic superpowers and assorted mercenary groups.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* ''[[http://www.brokenspacecomic.com Broken Space]]'' has a magical version of this in the BackStory.
* ''Webcomic/SchlockMercenary'' ''started'' with {{Nanomachines}}, SuperSoldiers, PoweredArmor, [[RidiculouslyHumanRobot sentient AI]], all-purpose fabricators, [[GeneticEngineeringIsTheNewNuke genetically engineered lifeforms]], and an interstellar PortalNetwork. Then the Toughs' MadScientist invented the [[{{Teleportation}} teraport]], and technology's been spiralling upwards ever since.
** There was also that bit where the author went on about how there are not only missiles and anti-missile-missiles, but also anti-anti-missile-missile-missiles, anti-anti-anti-missile-missile-missile-missiles, and so forth.
* Summarized and taken to its logical conclusion [[http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2138 on this strip]] from ''Webcomic/SaturdayMorningBreakfastCereal''.
* ''Webcomic/{{Drowtales}}'': The clans of Chel'el'Sussoloth have a magical version of this going on, [[http://www.drowtales.com/mainarchive.php?sid=9276 as expained in detail here.]] First there was just three ways to use mana: [[ElementalPowers sorceries]], [[SummonMagic summons]] and [[{{Golem}} golems]]. Then came the [[PowerCrystal foci]] which let even the most untalented channel mana. This also made it possible to master different kinds of magic, which hit hard the Dokkalfar [[CripplingOverspecialization who only knew how to use one]]. The use of foci was countered by [[ZergRush sheer force of numbers]], which was then in its turn countered by [[{{Magitek}} more modern golem engineering]]. The answer to manatech were [[BlackMagic the]] [[SummonMagic nether]] [[OurDemonsAreDifferent arts]], which forced the others to train special [[SealedEvilInACan demon sealers]]. [[spoiler:There have been hints that the next step is going to be [[ThePlague biological warfare]]]].

[[folder:Web Original]]
* The fan-made video ''Star Trek: WebVideo/PreludeToAxanar'' has the Four Years war between TheFederation and the [[ProudWarriorRaceGuy Klingon]] [[TheEmpire Empire]] portrayed this way. Each side keeps trying to head the other off with better ships and tactics. At first, the Klingons win battle after battle with their superior D6 battlecruisers. Then Starfleet commissions the new ''Ares'' class, the first dedicated Federation warships. The new ships turn the tide, especially after Captain Kelvar Garth (later nicknamed "Garth of Izar" by the Klingons) pushes his own USS ''Ares'' to the limits and pulls off a daring maneuver that cripples the Klingon forces in the system. The Klingons, not content to let the Federation get away with this, starts building a brand-new, much more advanced ship class, the now-iconic D7. In response, Starfleet designs the even larger, more powerful ''Constitution'' class, as the ''Ares'' class would prove no match for the [=D7s=]. It's a race who can get their ships finished and deployed faster. Played with in that both sides agree that if the Klingon high council had listened to their main commander Kharn, they could have had the [=D7s=] deployed in time to immediately counter the ''Ares'' before they had much effect. Only their arrogance after early successes prevented a complete Klingon victory.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* {{Parodied| Trope}} in ''WesternAnimation/TheTick''. The US military made a sentient mustache because "The Russians were working on a ''beard''!"
* Parodied on ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons,'' where Itchy and Scratchy draw progressively bigger weapons on each other and finally end up with enormous pistols that wrap around the globe.
** And discussed in a "Treehouse of Horror" episode:
-->'''Kang or maybe Kodos''': That board with a nail in it may have defeated us, but the humans won't stop there. They'll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big, it will destroy them all!
* The ''WesternAnimation/SpongebobSquarepants'' episode "Sand Castles In The Sand" revolves around Spongebob and Patrick turning a playfight around sand castles into a sort of evolution race that climaxes with state-of-the-art fighter jets against a ''HumongousMecha''.
* ''WesternAnimation/JusticeLeague'' eventually evolved to a plot line where the League was so powerful and outside government control that multiple factions started preparing for the League turning against them. The secret research team Cadmus, headed by Amanda Waller, began recruiting their own metahumans and elite groups like the ComicBook/SuicideSquad. The instigation and origin can be placed at multiple points, season three and the start of the "Unlimited" subtitle is when the League expanded to includes dozens more heroes (and built the Watchtower with a WaveMotionGun), "A Better World" from season two showed an AlternateUniverse where the League took over the world and became the Justice Lords. But there are also ties all the way back to the GrandFinale of ''WesternAnimation/SupermanTheAnimatedSeries'' where Superman was BrainwashedAndCrazy and invades the Earth in the name of ComicBook/{{Darkseid}}, which is credited as the first beginnings of Cadmus. Once the Cadmus arc came to an end, the LegionOfDoom formed because now the villains needed their own sanctuary against a better unified League.
* This tropes shoes up in ''WesternAnimation/StarWarsRebels.'' The Empire typically uses fast but non-shielded, fragile, hyperdriveless TIE Fighters and Interceptors. However they use a lot of them to make up for their weaknesses. The Rebels on the other hand use hardier and more versatile fighters, but they have fewer of them. In response to this part way through season three the Empire, under the guidance of Thrawn, begins manufacturing [[spoiler:the fast, shielded, hyperdrive capable, TIE Defender.]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* One of the main causes of UsefulNotes/WorldWarI. Particularly significant was the naval arms race between all the Great Powers in general and Britain and Germany in particular, which saw the transformation of the battleship from a mixed-gun, smaller vessel to the gigantic, all-big-gun Dreadnought type, and shortly thereafter increasing numbers of guns, and increases in size, speed, and armor among Dreadnoughts. By the time the War started eight years after HMS ''Dreadnought'' started the trend, the [[BritsWithBattleships Royal Navy]] had already commissioned three four-ship classes (the ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Duke_class_battleship Orion]]'' class, the ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_George_V_class_battleship King George V]]'' class, and ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Duke_class_battleship Iron Duke]]'' class) of "super-dreadnoughts", all in response to the German campaign to build more and better battleships, which in turn was inspired by the launch of the ''Dreadnought'' in the first place. By the time the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo, Britain had 29 battleships, most of them dreadnoughts, with Germany having 17. Ironically, the only time that British and German battleships fought a large battle, it was the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jutland Battle of Jutland,]] a tactical stalemate that can only a be called a strategic victory for Britain by default (the Royal Navy held off the German fleet, maintaining control of the North Sea and the blockade of Germany, but only because two fleets banging futilely into each other tends not to change the status quo).
** The irony is actually increased when one examines the actual Battle of Jutland - the Battleships barely engaged each other, with both sides essentially considering them TooAwesomeToUse (the German admiral fled when he realized how badly the British outnumbered him), and instead the smaller and less well armored battlecruisers did most of the fighting that day.
** At the same time, a [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_American_dreadnought_race miniature version was occurring in South America]] between Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
* The UsefulNotes/ColdWar, TropeCodifier of the Arms Race in Real Life, saw a constant stream of increasingly expensive military projects pursued by both the United States and the Soviet Union driven by limited or inaccurate intelligence about the other side's plans or AwesomeButImpractical stuff that didn't make it off the drawing board. Essentially, the UsefulNotes/ColdWar ended with piles of nuclear, mechanical, chemical, and electronic innovation until one side decided that it was fed up with the whole 'eternal arms race' thing and wanted more Coca-Cola and jeans and less corruption and oppression.
** A quintessential example: The Soviets caught wind the American XB-70 Valkyrie in the late 50s; it's a long-range, super-fast bomber intended to scream overhead and have landed before its bombs do. By 1970, they had created the [=MiG=]-25 "Foxbat" interceptor to catch it. The Foxbat is a brick with engines, and needs huge wings to keep it from falling from the sky, but YanksWithTanks saw those huge wings and thought, "Oh-crap, an ultra-maneuverable superfighter!" They spent a fortune developing the F-14 (1974) and F-15 ('76) to beat it. ''This'' caused the RedsWithRockets to [[FollowTheLeader counter with the Su-27 ('84) and MiG-29 ('83)]], which caused ''America'' to field the F-22 Raptor (2005) and F-35 Lightning II ([[DevelopmentHell ????]]). The RussiansWithRustingRockets are scrambling to produce their own fifth-generation fighters, but they are hampered by budget constraints, and so America currently has the edge and can now safely operate the XB-70 Valkyrie. ...Or could, if it hadn't been cancelled. In 1961. [[ShaggyDogStory Before its first flight.]]
*** Oh, the XB-70 flew very nicely...until it had a mid-air collision...[[DisastrousDemonstration during a photo-op staged for General Electric]].
** Or the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which was built to hunt down Soviet SS-24 and SS-25 mobile [=ICBMs=], which were built to hide from US "counterforce" [=ICBMs=] like the MX and Trident that were intended to survive a first-strike and still be able to destroy the other side's missiles, which were designed because the US believed that the Soviet SS-18 [=ICBs=] could do the same thing, and so on.
** There's also the fact that sometimes the scientists would completely punk the military by taking the physics experiments they wanted to do, dressing it up under the pretence of developing some impractical military technology and getting the military to fund it.
** A peaceful example from the Cold War is the Space Race. The Soviets put a satellite into orbit and get a man into space and back in one piece, so the Americans ramp up their space program and eventually get men onto the moon. Eventually, there was ''détente'', and the US and USSR realized that space is ''enormous'', so the Americans decided to focus on unmanned planetary science and building a shuttle that could do anything for the manned program (provided that "anything" was in Low Earth Orbit), and the Soviets/Russians decided to focus on space stations and long-term human spaceflight.
* At the opening of UsefulNotes/WorldWarII, the Royal Navy and the US Navy was still deploying ''biplanes''.[[note]]In a famous instance, very effectively because they were so ''slow'' they could not be targeted accurately by a battleship's flak batteries.[[/note]] By the end of the war, the Nazis were fielding ''[[CoolPlane jet fighter planes]]'' and ''ballistic missiles'' (the Royal Air Force also had jet fighters, but neither side's jets ever fought the other's). It ended with the United States {{Curb Stomp| Battle}}ing with two ''[[NukeEm atomic bombs]].''
** Similar tactics were seen in localized areas - for example, the Russians built the T-34 to stop the Panzer, so the Germans built the [[TankGoodness Panther and Tiger tanks]] to beat it. The British had already developed night carrier techniques (no one else bothered, which the USN was very thankful for at Pearl Harbor), and once it all kicked off, everyone else scrambled to do the same. When they realized that the Brits fitted armored decks to their aircraft carriers (which made the usual reaction to a Kamikaze attack: "sweepers, man your brooms"), the Japanese built the [=MXY7=] ''Ohka'', essentially a manned cruise missile, to stop them. When it became apparrent that Tiger and Bengal Tiger tanks vastly outclasses Shermans, the USA simply built lots more Shermans and ZergRush-ed them.
*** The Shermans were a bit of a subversion. Improved designs were made, such as the Sherman Firefly, fitted with {{BFG}}s, and a much heavier tank, the M-26 Pershing, but there were concerns that halting production of the Shermans to retool for mass producing the more powerful tanks, as well as having to complicate the American's 3,000 mile long supply chain with new parts and ammo for the new vehicles, could actually cause the balance to shift in favor of the Germans.
*** On the Soviet side of things, after the Germans introduced the Tiger and Panther, as well as the Kwk 40 tank gun and Pak 40 anti-tank gun designed to destroy the T-34 and KV-1/2 series, the Soviets began working on more powerful designs in order to counter them. The first of these was the IS-2, followed not long after by the Su-100 tank destroyer, easily capable of destroying most German tank designs up until the end of the war. While the King Tiger, and later Jagdtiger, slightly outclassed both, there were too few of them to actually make a significant difference to the war's outcome.
** The [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_beams Battle of the Beams.]] The Germans invented ever more complex systems of radio guidance for their bombers, only to have the British deploy even more complex counter-measures.
* Now that the pseudo-Alliance the two had during the UsefulNotes/ColdWar is officially over and China is trying to bring itself to modernity, it is beginning to develop a military with which it can actually defend itself properly - which it basically couldn't, until this last decade or so. Currently, the USA has a fixation on China's new stealth fighter prototype, the Chengdu J-20, while the United States' F-22 is semi-grounded for oxygen problems they can't seem to pin down or fix (it finally saw real combat action in 2014) and the F-35 is suffering from both technical and funding issues. In March 2012 a video was taken of the J-20 showing various tests done in flight, this is expected to be used in the ongoing F-35 funding wars to justify its enormous expense.
** Made even worse by the fact that the J-20 is a pure prototype technology demonstrator, and will never be made into an operational design. Fielding an operational 5th generation stealth fighter by the Chinese is almost certainly a decade away. But that doesn't stop the clamoring for more F-22s.
** In a similar vein, China purchased an old Soviet-era aircraft carrier (of the same class that the current Russian flagship), and is now attempting to build a naval air arm from scratch. It'll take 20 years to do so, but, the current stuff looks threatening on paper...
* Indeed, this trope exemplifies much of human military history.
* In 2010, a Japanese amusement park built a life-sized, 60 foot tall statue of the title Gundam robot from Anime/MobileSuitGundam. In 2011, a Chengdu (Sichuan province) amusement park built ''their own'' [[http://www.japanator.com/chinese-gundam-rip-off-goes-from-fake-to-fug-18434.phtml 60 foot tall robot statue]] shameless rip-off of the statue, which they didn't get the copyrights or permission to build. The park got sued for it and re-built it shortly thereafter.
* In the automotive world, look no further than [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Can-Am The Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or Can-Am for short.]] An odd racing series, Can-Am had very few restrictions for cars: if it had an engine and was covered in an enclosed body, it was approved. Soon, companies started to make their cars more and more powerful, leading to races that went to absolutely ''absurd'' heights--by the end of the series, Can-Am cars were going UpToEleven [[SerialEscalation at each successive race]] having crazy amounts of technology, from fans to increased downforce to six-wheeled cars, and regularly having more than ''900'' horsepower. Sadly, the series only lasted about a single decade, because the cars were getting too expensive to make and Porsche was kicking everyone else's asses with their '''''1500'''''-horsepower "[[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast Turbopanzer"]] 917/30KL. Even so, it still was one of the most ridiculous and over-the-top racing series ever.
** Along more tragic lines, the ''Group B'' rally series of the 1980s was based around a relaxed set of homologation rules, freeing manufacturers from the requirement to build their rally cars with one eye on commercial mass-production. The cars quickly transformed from rear-wheel-drive models powered with 200 bhp engines into four-wheel-drive monsters with 400 bhp turbo-supercharged engines stuffed into kevlar bodies that only vaguely resembled the family hatchbacks they were based on. The series developed a dangerous reputation, and in 1985 driver Attilio Bettega was killed during the mountainous Tour de Corse, when his car left the road and hit a tree. Things finally came to a head in 1986; in March, Joaquim Santos crashed into a wall of spectators, killing three, and in May Henri Toivonen and his co-driver were burned to death when their car plunged off the road and caught fire, also during the Tour de Corse. Group B was immediately cancelled.
* Deliberately averted by Formula One. In theory, it's supposed to be the very top end of racing with the fastest cars anyone can build. However, in order to keep things competitive and prevent one manufacturer dominating if they patent a new design, there are very strict rules implemented on what can actually be done. It's now reached the point where standard consumer technology such as traction control and active suspension is not allowed, and there are even road legal production cars that can go faster.
** Though [[CripplingOverspecialization none can actually match an F1 car's performance outside of a straight-line drag race]].
* Various technology duopolies wage their arms race over consumer dollars. Intel vs. AMD, ATI vs. Nvidia, UsefulNotes/PlayStation vs. UsefulNotes/XBox. What makes matters worse is that brand new technologies restart the race from scratch.
* Adherents of economic competition (e.g. libertarians and {{Social Darwinist}}s) invoke this historical pattern to argue why competition forces people into innovation.
* During the early part of the 20th century, there was competition for the title of "World's Tallest Building" which saw each construction taller than the last. To some degree, the competition still goes on, but not to the degree of the last century.