Dual Use Technology

Dual Use Technology


The phrase "dual use technology" refers to tools or techniques, developed originally for military or related purposes, which are commercially viable enough to support adaptation and production for industrial or consumer uses. Examples of dual use technology, for which the United States Department of Defense (DOD) has an entire dedicated program, include capabilities of the U.S. Navy that could be adapted for aviation safety, detecting hazards on the ocean floor, and finding abnormalities in an x ray. As promising as dual-use applications are, their potential for theft or appropriation by hostile powers has led to calls for greater controls over their export.

Armies and Technology in History

A line or argument commonly heard among foes of the military, or of a strong military defense, is that money spent on defense projects could be better used toward improving society by providing jobs, raising the standard of living, and solving daily problems. In fact, four millennia of human experience support the claim that spending on the development of new military technology ultimately serves to benefit society.

Probably the first example of this principle in action is the Egyptian adoption of the chariot, which greatly advanced the technology of transportation in the second millennium B.C. Had it not been for the invasion by the Hyksos in c. 1670 B.C. , who dealt the Egyptians a brutal blow with their chariot-equipped cavalry, Egyptian civilization might never have adopted the chariot.

In c. 800 B.C. , the Assyrians introduced foundational concepts of logistics—a significant component of modern business, involving the allocation and provision of supplies to meet needs—as part of an effort to supply imperial troops. Two centuries later, the concept of a postal service was introduced as Persian emperors sought to maintain communication with field commanders.

The Romans developed their roads, which ultimately provided the blueprint for the modern superhighway system—itself a concept introduced in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with military needs in mind. In about 100 B.C. , Chinese armies began using the wheelbarrow, a piece of technology so vital to the transport of military material that the emperor kept its design a secret for many years.

The list of military technological developments with civilian applications continues right up to the U.S. space program in the late twentieth century, without which modern satellite communication—to name just one example—would not be possible. Satellite technology, in turn, facilitated the military's global positioning system (GPS), today used by civilians for navigation in onboard vehicle systems. Additionally, the U.S. intelligence community and military played a pivotal role in developing the Internet.

The Dual Use Science and Technology Program

In an effort to formalize the interaction between military and civilian technological innovations, DOD established the Dual Use Science and Technology (DU S&T) Program, through which it partners with industry. As DOD officials have noted, there can be commonalities of aim between the need to maintain U.S. technological superiority on the battlefield, and the competitive edge of U.S. industry in the marketplace.

In order to facilitate partnerships, DOD has sought to develop streamlined contracting procedures, and to implement cost sharing between its DU S&T Program, the military services, and industry. The benefits to industry inherent in these partnerships include the leveraging of scarce science and technology funds, access to advanced technology, and the means of developing further beneficial partnerships with other firms, defense laboratories, and university research departments.

In order to qualify as a DU S&T project, an undertaking must have a clearly demonstrable dual use potential, and at least half of the project cost must be underwritten by non-federal participants, of which at least one must be a for-profit company or corporation. Awarding must be based on competitive procedures in compliance with federal regulations for equal opportunity, and projects must meet DOD requirements regarding procurement.

Benefits and risks. A 1999 report in Naval Forces provided a number of examples of benefits to be reaped from dual-use programs involving technology developed by a single division of the U.S. Navy, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, Rhode Island. During the late 1960s, defense contractor General Electric began developing laser-based listening technology for the detection of quiet-operating submarines at great distances deep beneath the ocean surface. Put on hold at the end of the Cold War, the project had received new life through a partnership between the NUWC Weapons Systems Directorate, Flight Safety Technologies, and Lockheed Martin.

The joint project would have applications for air safety by making it possible for pilots to detect hazards that do not show up on ordinary radar. Among these are the turbulence produced in the wake of large aircraft, forms of clear-air turbulence, wind shear, and microbursts, or sharp downdrafts produced in extreme weather conditions. Because these are not accompanied by rain or hail, radar cannot detect them, but much more discriminating laser beams are capable of "seeing" rather than "hearing" sounds, thus potentially providing advance warning of a disturbance that could cause a plane crash.

Undersea warfare (USW) also makes use of sonar, which could be applied in searching a mammogram x ray for minuscule abnormalities. Such was the focus of a program under development in a partnership between the NUWC Technology Transfer Program, the Weapons Systems Directorate, and the Faulkner Sagoff Center for Breast Health Care in Boston. Another promising partnership was a joint project with Precision Signal Incorporated of Boca Raton, Florida, to produce an imaging unit capable of detecting small objects buried under the sea floor. Called the Ocean Bottom Profiler, the device could be used to detect hazardous materials and other items that have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

The need for controls. Great advances carry with them a number of potential risks, not least of which is the chance that military innovations may be stolen or appropriated by hostile powers. This reality came to the forefront in the late 1990s, as persons both inside and outside the ranks of the federal government became concerned over alleged efforts by the People's Republic of China to appropriate U.S. military technology for its own purposes. Similarly, concerns were raised as to the use of sophisticated technologies by terrorist groups or terror-sponsoring nations to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"In a perfect world," Commerce Department Undersecretary for Export Administration William Reinsch told reporters in January 1998, "I would have multilateral agreements that would require consensus" before sensitive technologies could be exported. As Reinsch noted, "Right now there is no veto [for the United States], but during the Cold War, if the French wanted to sell something to the Chinese, we could block it."

Reinsch, the senior government official responsible for issuing export licenses on dual-use technologies, was referring to a Cold War-era organization known as COCOM, or the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls. When COCOM was in operation, its membership—composed of industrialized democracies—had to reach unanimous agreement before civil or military hardware could be exported to states such as the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations, China, Cuba, North Korea, more aggressive states in the Middle East, and South Africa under the apartheid regime.

With the end of the Cold War, COCOM had disbanded, and no similar mechanism was in place. In lieu of such agreements, the United States and the nations of Western Europe relied on agreements of mutual consent, but these often broke down in the face of conflicting views as to the threat posed by certain nations. In the case of North Korea, most of the world's advanced nations agreed that it posed a threat, but when it came to Iran—a nation the United States accused of supporting terrorism—U.S. and European views differed. In order to prevent the illegal transfer of dual-use and other sensitive technologies to hostile nations, Reinsch called for an increased vigilance on the part of vendor companies, as well as the tasking of more U.S. agents to monitor potential transfers.



Baus, Theresa. "Dual Use Technology." Naval Forces 20, no. 3 (1999): S54–S55.

Muradian, Vago. "Better Export Controls Needed to Check Dual-Use Technologies." Defense Daily 198, no. 14 (January 22, 1998): 1.

Palfrey, Terry. "The Hidden Legacy of Scott: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the UK Government Proposals to Control the Transfer of Technology by Intangible Means." International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 13, no. 2 (August 1999): 163–181.

Sharke, Paul. "The Start of a New Movement." Mechanical Engineering 124, no. 8 (August 2002): 47–49.


Dual Use Science and Technology Program. < http://www.dtic.mil/dust/ > (April 14, 2003).


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