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Defense Ministry funds “dual-use technology” development at universities

  • 2015-07-22 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: July 22, 2015 – p. 1, 7)

 

 The Ministry of Defense has launched its first aid scheme to directly fund researchers at universities and other institutions to develop technologies that can be used for national security.

 

 The ministry began accepting applications from universities, semi-public institutions, and university-led start-ups and businesses on July 8 and will close applications on August 12. It has secured 300 million yen for the program in the fiscal 2015 budget. The ministry will select about 10 projects to receive up to 30 million yen each. This is much higher than normal research funds.

 

 The funding scheme is based on a government vision to make better use of domestic technologies in the national security field and eventually stimulate economic growth. At a Liberal Democratic Party meeting on science and technology held in June, participants demanded that government facilitate the use of civil technology for national security.

 

 “We need to solidify the culture of dual-use technology,” said one participant.

 

 Dual-use technology can be used for both civil and military purposes. Talk on this subject has been growing recently in various research fields. Research on viruses, for example, is not only aimed at helping to prevent and cure diseases, but is also used to develop biological weapons.

 

 The LDP pledged to step up efforts to facilitate the development of dual-use technology during the general elections held last year. An interim report draft of the fifth basic program on science and technology, which the government is currently working on, also touches on the need to respond to various issues related to national security.

 

 The government expects the development of dual-use technology to help boost the economy. The U.S. is a successful model in this respect. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the U.S. Department of Defense is equipped with professionals capable of planning research projects and massive amounts of money. It has led a range of projects including developing the Internet, global positioning system (GPS), artificial intelligence, and autonomous robots by recruiting researchers from among the public and holding open competitions. The results of the research have been put to practical use by businesses, serving as a source of national strength.

 

 The Ministry of Defense conducted two joint research projects with universities in 2012 and three in 2013. In 2014, the number jumped to seven. Its new aid scheme is designed to solicit applications from interested researchers and directly fund projects for military purposes. The Defense Ministry’s bureau of finance and equipment explains that shortages of research funds are the reason behind the launch of this program. “If there is money, ideas will materialize,” said a ministry official.

 

 “The amount of discretionary research funds is being cut,” said a researcher with a state-run university who is seeking to apply for the aid program. “Researchers are urged to apply for national programs to procure funds on their own.”

 

 Meanwhile, academic circles are growing wary about conducting military research. Out of remorse for the wartime promotion of military-associated studies, they have distanced themselves from military research since the end of World War II. Research on airplanes, nuclear power, and other military-related technologies was banned by the U.S. for several years after the end of war. In 1967, the Science Council of Japan issued a statement that scientific research for warfare purposes will absolutely not be conducted.

 

 But ambiguity remains over projects concerning basic research. Some universities allow researchers to receive funds on the condition that they release the results to the public. But most colleges do not have such internal rules, leaving decisions to researchers.

 

 In June, a symposium on military research was held at the University of Tokyo, and 130 researchers from across the nation participated. Satoru Ikecuhi, a professor emeritus at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), pointed out the “strong likelihood of the results of research being shrouded in a veil of confidentiality.” He warned that the government is trying to utilize poorly funded researchers by helping them finance projects.

 

 Regardless of whether they are funded or not, dual-use technologies can be used for military purposes once their results are made available to the public. The Science Council of Japan in 2013 revised the code of conduct for scientists to alert them to the possibility of research results being abused for destructive purposes regardless of their intention. (Abridged)

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