The Extent of UoS Involvement with the Military


According to a recently released freedom of information request, the University of Southampton received £1,678,000 of income from sponsored research for arms companies and £668,819 in consultancy fees during the academic year 2017/2018.

Presumably this co-operation has expanded over the last few years, as the university has formed a series of partnerships with arms companies.

Details on the research can be gleaned from press releases. UoS participated in naval exercises with the Royal Navy as part of its research partnership with QinetQ to test underwater drones.

An email sent out by the uni administration advertising their stategic partnership with a French arms company shows this research is carried out by their employees on campus

Thales directly funded project (~£500k) around the management and deployment of autonomous assets [PI: Dr Jon Downes] involves a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, including 3 Thales staff members co-located at the Boldrewood Innovation Campus.

Cobham has also collaborated with UoS to research aerial refuelling. The company is currently selling refuelling equipment to the Saudi air force as it bombs Yemen.

An email released with financial figures shows the discussion between administrators in the legal department who decided what information would be redacted.

There are funders which are marked as confidential – some being those mentioned in the FOI request – which are included within the ‘other sources or less than £20k … Information relating to Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces of Other Countries does have a confidential flag for non-publication.

So only a handful of private companies were revealed, but some information is available. The MOD has started virtual reality training for its troops and the Dstl has set up a submarine simulator with UoS. On the university’s website multiple similar projects with the MOD and the Dstl with £100,000’s of funding each can be found.

During a visit  from Northrop Grumman engineers, academics from the university gave an overview of UAV research at Southampton. Slides from the presentation show millions of pounds of funding, from government agencies and private companies who develop military drones. Some of the projects showcased were advertised as having civilian purposes however research into drones to charge agricultural sensors at Imperial was revealed to have been funded by MI5 for the purpose of remotely charging its hidden listening devices.

One of the foreign party mentioned by the FOI request is the Armed.  An alliance between the MoD and the US Army Laboratory in  which UoS was one of the universities involved in is detailed in a press release where the ‘alliance’s’ motivation is described as

“To address the key research gaps and challenges in coalition operations, synergies from robust U.S. and UK collaborations can achieve results not possible without insights and innovations from U.S. and UK industry, academia and government.”

UoS also receives funding from the US federal government as it says on the university’s website

‘The University of Southampton has been selected as the sole UK partner to help operate the new National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (COE UAS) in the United States’.

The uni collaborated with US universities and DARPA on a project for drones to be able to recognise and track human gait from long distances.

The university has even gone so far as to have a student from the elite US officers school West Point study here which complements domestic schemes to recruit officers for the UK military as is explained in the accompanying press release.

The university also advertises arms companies to its students by inviting them to the Science and Engineering Festival, the careers fair and having events on the university campus for children to have their degrees sponsored by and go on to work for the military and arms companies.

UoS is listed as one of the ‘Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research’ in a brochure published by the National Cyber Security Centre. This is part of GCHQ, whose activities of mass surveillance and spying on activists were found to be illegal by the ECHR, but surveillance is not in the remit of the NCSC. In the introduction to the brochure the director of GCHQ wrote

‘Much has changed since the first Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research (ACE-CSR) call was launched in late 2011 … Fast forward to 2020, two successive Cyber Security Strategies and a decade of sustained government investment have seen the UK develop into an international Cyber Power.’

This correlates with the cyber security industry’s expansion after the Snowden and WikiLeaks incidents, with new companies such as Darktrace founded with intelligence officials and academics to tackle  inside threats. The cyber research done at Southampton fits this trend as the brochure details the work they do for GCHQ, various other government agencies and arms companies whose work involves identifying leakers of information and cyber warfare. The former ‘Division Head Cyber and Information Systems’ is also currently a visiting professor at Southampton.

The extent of these relationships is presembly greater than was revealed in the FOI as the levels of fuding per year are clearly in the millions rather than hundreds of thousands. The true extent can only be speculated at and there is reason to believe that there is more relevant information that has not been made public. The Czech Ministry of the Interior organised a series of meetings between cybersecurity experts from their country and experts in Britain. UoS participated in this. Other British universities have collaborated with Israeli arms companies.

This all follows a national trend of increasing collaboration between the military, arms companies and higher education. The author of the linked article academic Elliot Murphy who has been tracking these developments commented on the findings of this piece.

“These findings show how the University of Southampton continues to place military collaborations front and centre, considering ethical concerns to be of remote interest. Academic support for the arms trade directly warps the relationship between student life and research on the one hand, and societal interests on the other.”





Leave A Reply