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9. Science- and technology-based military innovation: the United States and Europe



I. Introduction

II. S&T-based military innovation

III. The US example

IV. Europe in search of a policy

V. Implications of EU S&T-based military innovation

VI. Conclusions


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Developments in international relations and military doctrines after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised a number of issues related to the production, transfer and use of military technology. Part of the response to asymmetric or other threats depends on the exploitation of relevant skills in support of research, development and production; on the efficient organization of such activities at the national and multinational levels; and on sharing the outputs with friendly states and allies.


Military research and development (R&D) is the most expensive and basic phase in the creation of a new weapon platform. The ‘revolution in military affairs’, which some see as more of a constant evolution, is a process that today is identified with ‘network-centric’ military solutions, of which the war in Iraq in 2003 has been called the first operational test. The Iraq war effort benefited from the breakdown of the barrier between civil and military technology in the fields of communications, information technology and sensors.


There has been a shift in emphasis from traditional military R&D of defined weapon platforms towards greater military exploitation of science and technology (S&T). This is referred to as ‘S&T-based military innovation’, implying cooperation with as well as direct and long-term military support—through defence ministries, armed services and related research organizations—for basic research, applied research and exploratory technology development to achieve and support future military capabilities.


The USA and the UK are examples of nations with a national S&T-based military innovation policy. Despite their differences, both policies reflect the overlap between what are considered civil and military S&T areas. In the USA the implementation of S&T-based military innovation has been standard procedure at least since World War II. The UK is a major European military producer and the one where a new emphasis on S&T-based military innovation has been most clearly demonstrated.


In spite of the European Security and Defence Policy, there is no coordinated European S&T-based military innovation policy. This is partly because the inclusion of defence as an EU task is only recent and partly because of the overlapping and unclear boundaries between the pillars of the organization. Another difficulty is national competition within Europe and attempts to preserve national skills rather than pool them. However, there are changes under way that might constitute steps towards the establishment of a more coordinated European, or even EU, S&T-based military innovation policy. Should such a policy be formulated, the enlargement of the EU in 2004 may bring both S&T benefits and competitive drawbacks. It is also open to question whether European S&T will be sufficient to meet EU capability ambitions. Exploiting foreign S&T for EU military innovation would enhance national S&T-based military innovation and multinational research programmes.


There are three long-term implications of a shift towards EU S&T-based military innovation: for data and transparency; for research ethics; and for finding a political balance between cooperation, competition and technology controls among both friends and foes. The data and transparency problem—a general problem in military and security studies—is further complicated by S&T-based military innovation. The ethical problem is basically an individual problem mainly for non-military actors involved in S&T-based military innovation. The neutral aspect of S&T and the many uncertainties with regard to its potential military use will involve difficult considerations for actors, especially if transparency remains low.


The problem of finding an acceptable political balance between the free sharing of S&T results and trying to gain commercial and technological advantages over military competitors—both friends and foes—while at the same time implementing technology transfer controls in order to prevent or delay military innovation by potential enemies is likely to become an increasingly delicate task.



Dr Björn Hagelin (Sweden) is the Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. Before joining SIPRI in 1998, he was a researcher and Associate Professor at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, for 10 years. Previously, he was a security analyst at the Swedish National Defence Research Institute. His publications include books, chapters and articles about security policy, the military industry, arms transfers and related topics. His recent publications include ‘Sweden's defence industry: from independence to uncertainty’ (in Russian), Eksport Vooruzheniy, vol. 37, no. 3 (May/June 2003). He contributed to Armament and Disarmament in the Caucasus and Central Asia, SIPRI Policy Paper No. 3 (July 2003), and to Arms Trade and Economic Development: Theory and Policy in Offsets (Routledge, 2004), edited by J. Brauer and J. P. Dunne.