Explosive Innovation

26 September 2016

In late 2014, the United States Department of Defense put into motion a critical new program: the Defense Innovation Initiative (DII). A memorandum circulated by then Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, described the DII as a series of significant changes to Department operations aimed at maintaining and extending US military superiority. The changes involved plans for the development of new strategies and technologies, including improved weaponry and new techniques for warfare.

The DII is driven by the desire to broaden America’s competitive edge over potential opponents. “We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding and we must find new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages even as we deal with more limited resources… Potential adversaries have been modernising their militaries… This represents a clear and growing challenge to our military power.”

Unsurprisingly, the push for military growth has created lucrative opportunities for the government’s defence contractors. Lockheed Martin, its largest contractor, earned $36.2 billion USD through its work with the Department of Defense in 2015. Now furthering its involvement with the DII, Lockheed Martin has plans for a new collaboration with the University of Melbourne. The aerospace and defence giant will be opening a new multi-disciplinary research & development facility on campus by early 2017.

The Science Technology Engineering Leadership and Research Laboratory (STELaR Lab) will be Lockheed Martin’s first outside of America. The move “will create premium jobs for science and technology graduates, with STELaR Lab anticipated to grow to over 20 employees within three years,” states the company’s press release. Part of the $13 million AUD investment will also go towards funding scholarships, research projects and internships.

Representatives from the University of Melbourne and the Defence Science Institute, who is also involved in the project, have expressed enthusiasm about the collaboration.

“The University has made no secret of its desire to both deepen and broaden its engagement with industry to have high impact and work together to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems,” says Professor James McCluskey, the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).

Lockheed Martin Australia’s Chief Executive, Raydon Gates, has echoed this sentiment, saying: “Lockheed Martin technologies and best practice capabilities ensure our local partners can meet the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly changing world.”

However, news of the Lab has not been universally well-received. Minutes from a University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Students’ Council meeting express disapproval for the University’s relationship with the company.

“As an organisation UMSU is constitutionally bound to oppose militarism, for good reason,” writes UMSU President, Tyson Holloway-Clarke, who made a motion to denounce the project. “War and the violence of war are abhorrent and needlessly disrupts the lives of millions.”

The concern is that the project will lead to the construction of a new generation of weapons that will be deployed by the U.S. military. UMSU fears that this will make the University complicit in the “death and destruction” caused by a foreign body.

Indeed, in August, it was reported in The Age that one of the planned projects of STELaR Lab is to develop software for use in guided attacks. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin has controversially sold F-35 stealth jets to Israel. The University’s relationship with Lockheed Martin (and by association, the U.S. Department of Defense) has thus been interpreted as an expression of support for the underlying principles of the DII.

Students’ Council passed the motion at its meeting, which was held on 13 September. Students’ Council called for key actors of the project, including Professor McCluskey and Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis, to address the concerns raised in the agenda. The Council also requested more clarification on the relationship between the University and Lockheed Martin, encouraging the University to re-examine its ethical standards in research.

A representative from the University has responded to the criticism, stating: “The University has research relationships with many international organisations and each of these partnerships are established after a full and considered review of the opportunities and outcomes they provide for the University’s staff and students.”

“Universities should be known as a lively space for debate and argument and we’re proud that our students take an active interest in ensuring Melbourne upholds this ideal.”

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