Multifunctional Technologies: A Problem of Arms Control, Verification, and Military R&D

by Dr. Angelika Brinkmann




With the political developments in Eastern Europe, conversion of military into civilian industries has been the focus of many discussions. While it is feasible to differentiate between military and civilian production, it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish between military and civilian R&D.


The Linkage
The combination of verification, military R&D, and multifunctional technologies does not come into mind immediately, but they are intricately woven together. A definition of terms has to precede in order to take a closer look at the problem. Military R&D usually means the military industrial complex of a nation, including high-skilled personnel and high-tech companies being involved in the production of military items. Military technologies can comprise everything from sensors to laser technologies. Verification is represented in both of them. This does not only refer to verification as a means of arms control but to the verification technologies themselves. In arms control, the definition of the verification protocol is the main part of the scientific implementation process. This protocol has to comprise all regulations of the verification regime in detail. Several aspects have to be taken into account here; the definitions and interpretations of the specific terms applied to the 'major articles' of the treaty have to be offered as far as necessary. Also, the prohibition, peremptory norms, regulations and obligatory rules of action, relating to the behaviour of the designated personnel have to be defined as well as the technical instruments allowed and the mode of their application. In addition, the analyzing process of the collected data and information, and the controlling measures of the inspected site have to be solved. Considering the technical aspects it may be necessary to define another annex to the treaty provisions, dealing with the technical details of the instruments applied. This may become important, if e.g. the parties to a treaty would like to define a special standard of sensor elements like cables, monitors, or other equipment; to summarize these purely technical questions in an additional annex is not imperative. It could facilitate the handling of the whole agreement, if the technical details are very extensive. In any case, a close co-operation between technical, legal experts and the negotiators (decision makers) to link up with the political side is necessary. In arms control verification, the interrelation between political purposes and their technical and juridical realization is very complex. In the political context, verification tasks occur on the basis of a political and practical need. There have been very few agreements of specific nature without an arrangement on how to verifiy compliance with the provisions. With regard to the technical context, the technicians of each side have not only to prepare applicable verification methods on the basis of the regarded subject of the consultations, but have also to bear in mind the 'national interest' with regard to a politically and technically advantageous solution. The technical instruments used for verification measures are regularly not only developed and constructed just for this special occasion. Most of the sensors applied especially for on-site verification are available in many different ways based on equal or comparable physical principles. Most of them are not 'classified' items; some of these instruments or single components are traded without restrictions. It is for this reason that most instruments applied for verification may technically perform much more than necessary for accomplishing the concrete verification tasks, i.e. they are multifunctional. This capability and the possibility of its abuse should be limited both technically and politically.


Sensors: A Case Example

One example for multifunctional technologies are sensors. Sensor technology can be divided into three categories: passive, active, and interactive – based on the origin of the item's signature. Sensors provide information on potential items. They involve a receiver to collect energy emanating from potential targets, items to be counted, etc.. This energy is known as the item's ''signature“. Passive sensors observe the 'natural' signature of a certain item, i.e. one does not depend on actions taken by the sensor. For exampe, a passive sensor might detect the heat radiating from its engines. So-called ''optical“ sensors depend on radiation in the visible or infrared electromagnetic spectrum. Active sensors transmit energy of their own into space being searched. Reflected energy (the item's signature) indicates the presence of a potential target, etc.. Interactive sensors transmit some energy into the vicinity of a possible item. This creates in the possible item a change in the signature observable by active or passive means. The specifics of the manner by which the target responds to the probe, offers information about it in return. To conclude: sensors have different characteristics depending on their purpose. Some sensors are intended to provide long-range information that is passed on to other parts of a system; these sensors tend to be large. Other sensors are intended to guide weapons (usually missiles) directly to their targets at relatively short ranges; these sensores tend to be small, sometimes fitting directly into the weapon itself. The Implications for Military R&D The description given above should illustrate that the simple use of the term 'military-civilian' or 'dual-use' is not applicable to military R&D. As much as verification of military R&D is desirable, some of the verification technologies themselves are part of the problem. Verfication technologies can be roughly divided into two parts: launch and component technologies. [Technologies should be regarded as a system, with subsystems, components, sub-components, particles, and elementary parts.] Launch technologies comprise: electronical/optical sensors, ground/air-based sensors, infrared detectors, radar, robots, etc. With the demand for more high technologies to be incorporated in some of the same technologies we find in the civilian sector, it will become increasingly difficult to say at an early stage whether a particular item is military or civilian. The advancing complexity of modern weapons technology makes it even more necessary to use more components to form a new weapon system. But with the ongoing innovations in the fields of sensors, actuators, materials, and software a large weapon system will be technically outdated as soon as it is completed. So it seems understandable from a company's point of view to develop 'multifunctional' technologies to become more independent from military production.



To sum up the problem of multifunctional technologies: with ongoing innovations in the field of high technologies it will be increasingly difficult to find 'pure' military R&D. A shift towards more multifunctional technologies seems to be more likely due to the more complex weapon systems. It will also give companies more flexibility within their own production procedures. This may cause problems with arms control in general and verification in particular. With the fading line between military and civilian components, it may pose difficulties for the verification process and the drafting of future arms control treaties, thereby leaving fewer items to verify. But it may also open the chance for 'technology transfer' as a confidence-building measure.