German universities and research institutions have received $21.7 million in grants from the Pentagon since 2008, the German magazine Der Spiegel calculated after examining US budget data. According to the outlet, 260 such transfers have been registered with some of the universities repeatedly receiving financing from the US military. The support is mainly focused on technical and scientific disciplines.
Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich is said to be the leading individual recipient, receiving nearly $3.7 million from the US Department of Defence since 2008 over 23 individual transfers. Additionally, it was the Bavarian university that was apparently paid the largest single grant when it received $1.72 million to finance a project, researching chemicals and possible replacements for an explosive called RDX, widely used in the military.
Other leading recipients are the Technichal University Darmstadt and RWTH Aachen, which has been given more than $1 million since 2008.
The outlet points to a contradiction with educational regulations, stating that universities should be committed to peaceful goals and fulfil their special responsibility for sustainable development, which some interpret as a clear requirement to reject military funding.
The corresponding clause was introduced in one German state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and remains in force despite discussions to abolish it. However, the data, studied by Der Spiegel, suggested that three universities there have been funded by the Pentagon since 2014: RWTH Aachen University, Ruhr University Bochum, and the University of Paderborn.
RWTH Aachen, when commenting on the matter expressed commitment to peaceful research and denied that it had conducted armaments research, saying its goal is to “be the academic foundation for sustainable solutions to respond to today's and tomorrow's civil challenges".
As Der Spiegel concludes, the problem is that a lot of research can be used for both militarily and civilian purposes, ranging from communications technology to robots and software, so accepting the US Department of Defence’s funding is “a tightrope walk".
The US military, in several project descriptions, notes unambiguously that it is interested in basic research, which is "related to the improvement of army programs and operations or has such a potential". Other documents outline the objective of "maintaining technological superiority in the scientific fields relevant to the needs of the Air Force” as well as the goal of preventing "technological surprises for our nation", meaning the US, and develop such surprises "for our opponents".
Examples of such dual-purpose research include several projects at RWTH Aachen. The university, however, has defended its ventures, including a $530,000 grant for research called "A scalable and high-performance approach to the readout of silicon qubits" that explores important components of quantum computers. The university insisted in a statement that although it was initially driven by the ability to decrypt messages, economic usage is now in the foreground. Another project concerns stable power supply for ships, also funded by the Pentagon.
Despite receiving $300,000 from the US military, the university argues that it was “basic research that could be applied to any kind of ships". One of RWTH's projects developed textiles for military and commercial applications that are designed to repel insects using only physical agents without insecticides.
Non-university research institutes also were among US funding recipients with dual-use projects. The most generous grants have gone to the Max Planck Society, to the German Aerospace Centre, and to the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven. They included funding for an infrared-based automated whale detection project by AWI researchers, who received a total sum of $973,000. As the outlet points out, this could be used for hunting gigantic mammals as well as submarines.