The National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) has decided not to participate in the Ministry of Defense’s National Security Technology Research Promotion Fund, the Tokyo Shimbun has learned. Participation in the fund had been debated within the NINS. Some in the NINS wanted to allow participation due to funding concerns. The NINS explains that it made the decision based on hearings held at each institute, and that it will not allow any of its institutes to participate. The decision was made on April 23, 2020.
The NINS is comprised of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the National Institute for Basic Biology (NIBB), the National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), the Institute for Molecular Science (IMS), the National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS), and four centers, including the Astrobiology Center.
The Ministry of Defense started the funding program in FY 2015. The Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency, a MOD external organization, announces the research topics each year and solicits applications from universities and research institutes. The applications are reviewed by external experts. Those selected receive funds for research, and the MOD obtains the results of state-of-the-art research.
There is a close affinity between military technologies and such research areas as astronomy, energy, and materials science. For example, the infrared detection technology used in high-performance telescopes was born out of military technology. In its FY 2018 call for applications, one of the MOD’s research topic mentioned the NAOJ’s Subaru Telescope, which is capable of observing the far reaches of space without distortion.
In a 2017 statement, the Science Council of Japan said that there is “considerable government intervention” and “many problems” in the MOD research funding program. The NAOJ decided in 2016 not to participate. In July 2019, however, NAOJ Director-General Saku Tsuneda and other executives proposed that participation be reconsidered.
Tsuneda said to Tokyo Shimbun that research funds with unrestricted use have decreased and that they “considered the MOD program as one source of funding.” Tsuneda said that the NAOJ will “continue working to secure external funding.”