...these new wonder weapons will be enough to totally surprise their enemies, dominate the battlefield and/or shock the enemy into submission – and thus bring by victory in short order.
"Wonder weapons" turned the First Gulf War from a meat-grinder into a walk-over. It was the culmination of decades of technological advancement in warfare which had yet to be tested in combat. Strategic use of stealth aircraft, smart weapons, cruise missiles, and night attack allowed the Allies to decapitate the Iraqi command and control system. And GPS allowed the Allies armies to bypass the heaviest ground defenses.
Though the initial claims were overstated, the result was still impressive. I would argue the real value of a "wonder weapon" is not to win a war, but as an unexpected force multiplier for conventional forces.
Given the historical outcome of the First Gulf War, it's easy to forget it was expected to be a meat-grinder. While Iraq had no hope of winning militarily, they could politically sustain great casualties while the Allies could not. It was possible Iraq could bog the Allies down and inflict a politically untenable number of casualties and force a negotiated peace.
The Allies faced a modern, centralized air defense system, and a large, dug-in, battle-hardened army using modern Soviet equipment. Allied equipment and organization was largely untested. Yet the land-battle took just four days with scant Allied casualties.
The F-117 stealth attack aircraft, helped by strategic destruction of key radar facilities and jamming of others, allowed the Allies to penetrate into the heart of Iraq's centralized command system unscathed. The F-117 was not the sleek, high performance stealth aircraft we know today; it sacrificed everything to make its stealth work. Precision guided munitions allowed these few small, low performance aircraft to decapitate Iraq's command and control system in the heart of Baghdad on the first night; a feat otherwise not impossible, but would have taken unacceptable casualties.
The role and effectiveness of the F-117 during the Gulf War has been overstated. "Smart bombs" were not as accurate as intended. It could be detected on radar, but was difficult to target, thus requiring supplemental SEAD and electronic warfare escort. Conventional night attack aircraft did operate over Baghdad. Simultaneous strikes by air and sea launched cruise missiles added to the destruction and confusion. All this culminated into the early destruction or suppression of targets vital to running an army: government buildings, TV stations, airfields, presidential palaces, military installations, communication lines, supply bases, oil refineries, electric powerplants and factories.
The Allies did in a night what should have taken weeks of conventional rolling back of Iraq's air defenses, and wonder weapons were a key part of the plan. The Iraqis were prepared for a conventional battle and were unprepared for this, though they could have been better prepared for something like it. Their highly centralized military was left uncoordinated, overwhelmed, and sluggish to react. This left Iraq open to a month of air strikes with near impunity.
Even after a month of sitting in the desert being bombed, the Iraqi army still had to be dealt with. They had six months to dig in, and air power can only do so much. While the quality of the units on the front line was questionable, dug in they could potentially do a lot of damage, and they were backed up by mobile, experienced armored reserves.
Iraqi defenses along the Kuwait/Saudi border stretched from the sea to what the Iraqis considered impassible desert. With no roads or navigation aids, a conventional army could not operate in this area, so the Iraqis did not bother to defend it strongly. The Allies used their next wonder weapon: GPS. For the first time an army could know for sure where it was. This seems like a small thing, but a great many battles could have been won had their units not gotten lost.
While the Allies feigned an amphibious landing on the right to outflank the Iraqi defenses, they sent two corps sweeping left into the formerly impassible desert, now navigable thanks to GPS. Additional large raiding parties were sent in by helicopter to harass the retreating enemy, again aided by GPS. On the first night they had cut vital supply lines and surprised enemy units. The Iraqi Republican Guard contained the units of most concern to the Allies, and this "left-hook" allowed them to surprise them with a flank attack the Iraqis thought secure.
As with the air war, more conventional attacks also proved successful; more successful than was planned for. This became a problem for the Allies. The "left-hook" was supposed to surround and cut off the Iraqi army, but the conventional attacks from the south by the (not amphibious) US Marines and Joint forces were driving the Iraqi army north faster than anticipated allowing more to escape than they would have liked.
At the time, stealth, smart bombs, cruise missiles, and GPS were considered wonder weapons that won the Gulf War. Later analysis showed while they were very effective, they were not as effective as believed, and conventional attacks were more effective than anticipated. While wonder weapons did not win the Gulf War, they allowed the Allies to implement an unconventional plan which resulted in scant Allied casualties and a very decisive, quick victory.
And I think this is the story with wonder weapons through history. They rarely live up to their promises. They're often boondoggles which waste more resources. They require years and years of development to mature, and more to be understood how best to use them. Every wonder weapon of the Gulf War had been available for years: stealth in 1977, GPS in 1978 with precision munitions in WW2 and effective cruise missiles just after (no, don't count the wildly inaccurate V-1). Yet it took until 1991 for it to all come together, not as a war-winning weapon, but as a force-multiplier.
"Wonder weapons" can't win wars on their own. Paradoxically, if wonder weapons are used as wonder weapons they are ineffective, unreliable, expensive boondoggles. Instead, they need time to mature and be integrated with conventional forces as force multipliers. Using releseabe's radar during the Battle of Britain as an example, it was a force multiplier for an excellent air defense system, but without the Dowding system radar would have been ineffective. The Germans squandered all sorts of wonder weapons, jets, rockets, heavy tanks, guided bombs... because they were used piecemeal and shoved into battle as prototypes, not integrated, operational force-multipliers.
The Allies use of wonder weapons in the Gulf War was the culmination of a decade or more of development and integration with their conventional forces. The long development time ensured they were reliable enough for operational use. Their integration ensured users at all levels understood their strengths and weaknesses; the strengths could be exploited, and their weaknesses mitigated.
Once the initial shock has worn off, wonder weapons can be countered. While they have definitely changed the battlefield, the battlefield has changed with them. Everyone has some form of GPS now. Detection technology has improved. Command and control has been decentralized. Air defenses have improved to be able to shoot down cruise missiles. This is the paradox of wonder weapons: once used successfully and publicly they're no longer a wonder weapon, they're just a weapon which can be obtained and countered.