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U.S. military fund provision renders rejection of military research ineffective

An organization representing Japanese scholars and scientists has made clear its rejection of participation in military research, but has failed to deliberate a related and significant issue: the U.S. military's widespread provision of funds to Japanese researchers.

The Science Council of Japan (SCJ) has been reviewing its position on military research since last year, after the Japanese Ministry of Defense began a fund program for dual civilian-military research. But the latest revelations that Japanese researchers are accepting funding from the U.S. military have fallen through the cracks of that debate.

Japanese researchers who were found to have accepted funds from the U.S. military all told the Mainichi Shimbun that their research was for peaceful purposes, and that they did not find the fact that their funding came from the U.S. military problematic.

So what kind of research has been funded by the U.S. military? A professor from the School of Engineering at Osaka University, who received approximately 45 million yen from the U.S. Navy, is researching the applications of computer simulations to prevent ships from capsizing. The capsizing of civilian tankers or military ships could lead to loss of life and marine contamination.

"The fruits of my research are useful for civilians, and the U.S. military can use them for their own needs," the professor says.

The area of expertise of a professor at the Graduate School of Informatics at Kyoto University who accepted around 10 million yen from the U.S. Air Force is data mining -- or the collection and analysis of massive amounts of information from conversation and other sounds -- and machine learning. Such research is vital for improving artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Two researchers at an Osaka University institute known for its research on nuclear-fusion power generation using laser technology were also found to have received some 30 million yen from the U.S. Air Force. Lasers are currently in the spotlight as a next-generation weapon for their ability to aim at targets with more precision and at a lower cost than shells and missiles. Plasma metamaterials research carried out at Kyoto University with funding from the U.S. Air Force covers technology that allows the cloaking of target objects by manipulating reflections created by electromagnetic waves. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is focusing on the technology as one that could be used for optical camouflage.

The research activities mentioned thus far fall under basic research, not weapons development. However, Fumiko Nishizaki, a professor of U.S. political and diplomatic history at the University of Tokyo, says, "The U.S. Department of Defense decides who it will fund. The source of the funding is U.S. taxpayers' money, and it is obvious that the DOD is allocating funding with a certain purpose in mind."

The Association of American Colleges & Universities has touted the funds from the DOD as having made possible the basic research used in nuclear weapons and stealth aircraft, and is requesting more funds from the department.

Why do Japanese researchers accept money from the U.S. military? Many of the researchers who were found to have received funding from the U.S. military are heavyweights in their respective fields, who have won awards or otherwise have impressive track records. Many have succeeded in obtaining large amounts of research funding, or are collaborating with corporations, and at first glance, would seem to have sufficient funds for their research without the U.S. military's financial support.

For example, one of these researchers, a professor at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Informatics, who was once the chairman of an academic society in the field of AI, says, "I needed the money to operate my research lab." Meanwhile, a professor from the Institute of Science and Industrial Research at Osaka University says, "The university urges us to obtain funding from external sources. I thought that getting funding from the U.S. military would help the institute where I am a member with money for securing staff and other expenses."

Funding from the U.S. military is also appealing for the openness and freedom that it affords researchers. The topic of research funded by the U.S. military is up to the researcher to decide. When the application for a researcher's topic of choice is accepted, funding is granted. The funding system does not put limitations on how the money is used, and any patent acquired relating to the research is the individual's alone. The researcher is only obligated to clearly indicate in their papers that their work was funded by the U.S. military, and to submit reports on any papers they present in academic journals to the military.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Defense Ministry's Innovative Science & Technology Initiative for Security not only limits applicants to topics that the ministry decides, but manages research progress.

"Japan's Defense Ministry's funding system is far more malicious," a professor funded by the U.S. military says. "I know about the SCJ's statement, but the researcher knows best whether their research is military in nature or not."

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