Soldiers in the laboratory: Military involvement in science and technology - and some alternatives (Oct/Nov 2005)

Texts of presentations by Chris Langley, SGR, to Pugwash Ethical Science Group, Imperial College, London, October 2005, and Totton Sixth-Form College, Southampton, November, 2005


Scope of the project:

  • The situation in the UK during the past 20 years. Comparisons made with other EU countries & the USA. First broad-based study of the UK situation
  • Primary focus - research & development but also other areas within SET across public institutions
  • Literature-based survey of the military sector involvement with SET - research, teaching and PR. Some interviews & discussions also undertaken. Web material also used
  • The military is: government departments, corporations and others!

The focus of the project:

  • Histories over the last two decades of the three major players:
    • the universities
    • the military industry
    • the government - various departments
  • The socioeconomic backdrop against which these three players interact
  • The products of the interplay:
    • partnerships & other collaborations
    • the military presence & its impact on research & funding culture
    • the military agenda & broadly defined security concerns
    • SET & its research landscape

Major questions which the project posed:

  • Where in SET is the military sector to be found? Locations described in the Report.
  • What role does the military play in the UK & its impact on SET in practical and ethical ways? IPR, openness & lock-in.
  • What return does the taxpayer obtain for military funding of R&D? Spin-out and spin-in.
  • How well does the military serve security needs? Contrast between narrow power-based version and more inclusive security needs for the world.
  • What role does technology serve in security debates?


Military spending on SET R&D - the UK & other countries
The key focus was:

1. Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence uses a major proportion of its R&D budget to find suitable products for its contractors to produce:

  • Procurement of weapons & support systems
  • 'Advanced technology solutions' & demonstration

2. Other government departments - their military role

3. Military corporations and other players

Non-military spending

1. Science Budget - non military

2. Private - Wellcome & charities

3. Commercial funding

Some of the findings:

The scale of the military machine

  • Global military burden is currently US$1trillion.
  • In the EU military R&D budgets are largely represented by small number of nations:
    • UK
    • Spain
    • Germany
    • France

In 2000 these 4 countries represented 97% of the total EU countries' defence budget (almost 9 billion Euros)

  • The UK spends 30% of all government R&D on military objectives
  • In the UK the military industry has a yearly turnover of over £15 billion
  • Major national and international military corporations are found in USA, UK & France


The wider picture

  • The USA spends more than 50% of its total government R&D budget on military objectives
  • The US 2004-9 Defence Plan budget will increase by around $40 billion dollars yearly to well over US$400 billion per year
  • Post September 11th vast increase in funding of research into areas of military interest such as bioterrorism, bioengineering, nanotechnology and surveillance - coupled with cuts in fundamental research.
  • Homeland security has a weapons-based portfolio
  • What the USA does impacts on research process and open nature of science across the world


The military sector and UK SET

  • Ministry of Defence puts almost £3 billion into SET R&D per year - contrast with many non-military SET areas
  • Military corporations in the UK add a further £100 million into SET R&D
  • There are additional non-research funding by the military - corporations plus the MoD, DTI and the FO - education, PR, and image creation
  • Military spending in UK is ahead of all areas save health, social services and education. Research areas which do not have military interest are often the orphans
  • In the last 3 years new consortia announced comprising universities, military corporations & government departments


The military influence

  • Military corporations include the largest commercial enterprises on the planet - Boeing in 2002 had revenues of $54 billion - BAE Systems has yearly sales in 130 countries to the tune of more than £12 billion
  • Military funds = weapons-based objectives in context of commercialisation of universities & the research process
  • During the last 15 years: military corporations are now in: government, local agencies, universities & lobby via special interest groups
  • Military research interests now found across SET especially the physical & engineering sciences

A step back for a whistlestop tour

  • Restructuring of Government Defence Research Establishments & post-1990's market forces. The birth of DSTL and QinetiQ
  • A very brief history of the commercialisation of UK universities

Government Defence Research Establishments - all change

1993 - MoD creates an Executive Agency Defence Research Agency - DRA

1995 - Defence Research Agency plus a range of Defence Establishments form Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA)


1. DRA - retain former activities

2. DTEO - test and evaluation

3. CBDE - mainly chemical and biological defence

4. Centre for Defence Analysis

1998 - DERA set up Defence Diversification Agency

2001-2003 - DERA becomes DSTL and QinetiQ

Commercialisation & the universities

1970s & 1980s:

  • More active management of SET plus growth of science & innovation parks - linking industries with the universities - started with MIT & followed in the UK by Cambridge and Heriot-Watt
  • Cuts in the funding of higher education - second wave of science parks

1993 - Realizing our potential - aimed to give a better match between publicly funded strategic research and the needs of industry

1994 - Foresight Panels set up by DTI

1995 - OST moves to DTI from Cabinet Office. Relaunch of the LINK programme

1998 - Council for Science & Technology reborn. The Knowledge-driven economy

2000 - Excellence & opportunity published


Military funding - the New Wave

A consolidation of military funding of SET within universities in consortia:

  • Defence & Aerospace Research Partnerships - 6 up & running at present
  • Towers of Excellence - currently 5
  • Defence Technology Centres - also 4
  • A suite of industrial/university 'partnerships' - Rolls Royce UTCs began in 1990s; Manufacturing initiatives - BAE & Boeing
  • Staff & student support from the military corporations & the ex-DERA laboratories - QinetiQ - professorships, lectureships, student bursaries, curriculum tools plus public relations
  • Joint Grant Scheme - MoD/Research Councils

Defence & Aerospace Research Partnerships - 6 active

  • Rolls Royce & BAE major players
  • Areas: design; simulation; modelling; materials; data handling
  • Universities involved include: Bristol, Cambridge, Cranfield, Glasgow, Imperial, Leicester, Loughborough, Southampton, Surrey, Sussex, Swansea & York
  • Funders: MoD, EPSRC, DTI. Total value of DARPS £18 million in 2002-03

Towers of Excellence - 5

  • Involves research groups in former DERA laboratories, military corporations & universities. Funders are MoD, QinetiQ & DTI
  • Areas of research at sub-system level: guided weapons; radar; synthetic environments; underwater sensors & electro-optic sensors
  • Plans for 25 Towers - with research student training
  • The Intellectual Property Rights issue not clear - civilian utility?
  • Universities currently: Birmingham, Cranfield, Sheffield, Surrey & Imperial College

Defence Technology Centres - 4

  • Areas at present covered: Data & Information Fusion; Human Factors Integration; Electromagnetic Remote Sensing; autonomous systems engineering
  • Consortia comprise MoD, military corporation and university partner. Funding is 50:50 MoD and industrial partner - £10 million each year for 3 to 5 years
  • Student training a key element
  • BAE is a major player

The influence of Europe & the USA

  • The EU Framework Programme
  • NATO Science Programme
  • Lobby groups in aerospace - civil & military
  • Increasing impetus for EU 'Defence' programme with associated R&D
  • US Government funding, especially the Departments of Defense and Energy, in the UK - US$90 million in 2003.


Case studies - the military dimension

  • Porton Down and biotechnology
  • Weaponisation of space - missile defense
  • Nanotechnology in the UK & USA
  • Aldermaston & the technological arms race: mini-nukes and the 'non-lethal' devices

Case studies - non-military dimension

  • New approaches to broadly defined security
  • Land mines & antipersonnel devices
  • Poverty & security
  • Climate change mitigation & clean energy


Military funding - so what's the problem?

  • Security issues transformed in last ten years - whereas current military support drives weapons- based approach
  • Lack of public accountability & discussion. Lock-in of military support for new technologies
  • The predominance of one or two very powerful corporations throughout the agenda-setting process in SET
  • Conflict resolution takes the back seat - arms escalation fuelled by SET expertise
  • Intellectual Property Rights issues leavened by secrecy - National Security!
  • There is a heavily commercial agenda for science & little room for alternate voices
  • Science, engineering and technology have a vital role to play in addressing pressing needs - these are poorly funded in comparison to military objectives:
    • climate change amelioration, clean energy technologies, biodiversity decline, poverty and supply of clean water & proper sanitation - unequal support in the face of the military machine
  • Technological imperative sets unreasonable claims in conflict - clean solutions to complex multidimensional issues

What can we do?

  • Obtain a copy of the SGR Report or the Executive Summary which has key points & recommendations - then circulate, circulate and circulate again!
  • Question where, how and why research programmes are being set up with military funding
  • Open up debate and lobby suitable people. We are going to produce an ethical briefing on career choice in those areas that attract military funding - these will be sent to all universities
  • Slow process but change can occur - there are examples of change from military to security-based objectives.
  • There is a broad-based movement to build an ethical science and this discussion tonight is a step in the right direction

Some good news

  • Ordinary people have power - boycotts, demonstrations & pressure on government
  • Obtain a copy of the SGR Report or the Executive Summary which has key points & recommendations - read & then circulate!
  • Question where, how & why research programmes are being set up with military funding
  • Open up debate & lobby. We are going to produce an ethical briefing on career choice in those areas that attract military funding - these will be sent to all universities
  • It is often slow, but change can occur - there are examples of change from military to security-based objectives.
  • There is a broad-based movement to build an ethical science & this discussion today is part of a growing process