Fact Sheet: The Pentagon and the Universities

Prepared by Subrata Ghoshroy for GDAMS:

The United States spends nearly $80 billion annually on defense research and development (R&D) alone. This line item exceeds the total spending on defense – not just R&D – by Russia, China, and India combined. Every year, approximately the Pentagon provides $4 billion to support university research in the United States.

There is growing recognition that defense spending at the current level of about $700 billion is no longer sustainable in view of the massive budget deficits. Several proposals are being made about how to reduce the defense budget. But none of them seriously questions the rationale for the spending on R&D, which exceeds amounts spent during the height of the Cold-War. For example, the highest R&D budget ever was less than $70 billion in constant 2010 dollars in the mid-1980s during Reagan’s Star Wars project.

The U.S. R & D budget is divided into several categories: Basic Research, Applied Research, and Development. The R&D budget also includes about $18 billion in classified programs. About $2 billion is allocated for basic research and $5 billion for applied research. The rest of the money – about $73 billion – is spent on development.

Basic Research: this principal source of Pentagon’s largesse to universities is intended for conducting “fundamental” scientific research that has ostensibly no connections to developing weapon systems.

Applied Research: this supports more focused research, mostly at government laboratories and contractor facilities, and unlike basic research, the results are not widely reported.

Development: this catch-all category for weapons development largely by defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed, and Raytheon, ranges from advanced component to operational systems development.

Most major universities depend heavily on the Pentagon to support their research in physical sciences and engineering and to train graduate students. It is the third largest sponsor of all academic research behind only the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, it has a monopoly in sponsorship of research in physical sciences and engineering disciplines as evident from the figures below.

Electrical Engineering 72%

Mechanical Engineering 75%

Metallurgy and Materials Science 35%

Mathematics and Computer Science 30%

According to the National Science Foundation, Pentagon support totals $3 billion a year, about 12% of all university-sponsored R & D. The Pentagon also sponsors research at two Federally Funded Research and Development Centres (FFRDC): the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which receives about $650 million, and the Software Engineering Institute at the Carnegie Mellon University at about $70. Apart from direct Pentagon support, many university professors through their consulting business receive funds from corporations, who in turn receive R&D funds from the Department of Defense, which are not reflected in the NSF figure. All told, Pentagon support for university research totals about $4 billion.

The top recipients of Pentagon research funds in 2007 were Johns Hopkins University ($511 million), Pennsylvania State University ($172 million), Georgia Institute of Technology ($99 million), Utah State University ($62 million), University of Hawaii ($54 million) Washington ($58 million), and MIT ($53 million). MIT has a particularly strong connection to the Pentagon, which earned it the dubious distinction of being called “the Pentagon on the Charles” by students protesting the Vietnam War. Another example is the Johns Hopkins University and its Applied Physics Laboratory, which does mainly classified work on satellites.