Dual-use technology

Dual-use is a term used to describe materials and products that can be used in civilian or military fields‭, ‬therefore their export is often subject to special laws and controls and may be prohibited to certain countries‭, ‬and countries included in some black lists cannot obtain these dual-use materials or products‭.‬

Therefore‭, ‬many countries have become more self-reliant in developing technologies used in the manufacture of non-conventional weapons‭, ‬and the use of dual-use equipment‭, ‬under the cover of scientific and peaceful activities‭. ‬This enabled the proliferation‭ ‬of such weapons as well as their production programmes‭, ‬which include the clandestine and illegal acquisition of materials that‭ ‬are dual-use in nature and are often imported under the cover of legitimate research and development projects‭, ‬such as the production of vaccines‭, ‬drugs and fertilizers‭, ‬to circumvent international inspections‭. ‬Both the civil and military fields include strong incentives for the development of new technologies‭, ‬given that the alignment of military standards with civilian concerns‭ ‬leads to accelerated technical progress‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬innovations encouraged by military needs can develop without the natural impediments of the civilian market‭, ‬because military institutions are among the main contributors to the funding of scientific research and development‭. ‬For example‭, ‬the development of military aviation technologies‭, ‬armoured vehicles that withstand the harshness of the desert environment‭, ‬and fast ships‭, ‬occurred in military laboratories and were developed for war‭. ‬However‭, ‬they quickly spread and are used in civilian fields because When the military work ends‭, ‬some manufacturers shift to adapting their production to civilian use‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬innovations first introduced for military work are not limited to the industry of heavy machinery but extend to medicine as well‭, ‬as many therapeutic serums were developed in military laboratories‭. ‬On the other hand‭, ‬some technologies were developed for civilian use but were ultimately used for military use‭, ‬such as iron mining techniques‭, ‬initially developed and used to improve agricultural tools like ploughs‭, ‬before they were widely used to make swords‭, ‬shields‭, ‬and weapons of war‭.‬

Another example is Ammonia‭, ‬initially developed to enhance the potency of fertilizers and increase the yield of agricultural lands‭, ‬before they were used to produce chemical weapons in World War I‭. ‬During the Cold War era‭, ‬Washington and Moscow spent a lot‭ ‬of money on the development of missile technologies that can launch spacecrafts for peaceful uses‭, ‬such as remote sensing‭, ‬communications‭, ‬meteorology‭, ‬and navigation‭, ‬however‭, ‬the same technologies were ultimately used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles‭. ‬For their part‭, ‬countries that develop ballistic missiles can claim that their programs aim to develop missiles to‭ ‬launch satellites used for peaceful and scientific purposes‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬countries producing advanced night vision devices used‭ ‬in war prohibit the proliferation of their devices to prevent them from reaching enemy hands‭, ‬however‭, ‬these devices have many‭ ‬civilian uses‭, ‬in the fields of photography‭, ‬medicine‭, ‬firefighting‭, ‬and others‭.‬

Nuclear technology

Nuclear technology is considered the most concerning regional and international issue‭, ‬as demands on it increase for various reasons‭, ‬including the need for new and renewable sources of energy‭, ‬however‭, ‬many of the countries that went for the military nuclear option‭, ‬or already possessed it‭, ‬have since reversed their courses‭, ‬such as South Africa‭, ‬Brazil‭, ‬and Argentina‭. ‬Evidently‭, ‬it is easy to evade international controls and make the transition process from civil to military uranium enrichment‭.‬

for example‭, ‬the centrifuge can be used in the medical field or to manufacture enriched uranium for military purposes and graphite columns can be used to control nuclear reactors‭, ‬or used in civilian fields‭. ‬Similarly‭, ‬Radiological Dispersal Devices‭ (‬RDDs‭)‬‭ ‬or dirty bombs‭, ‬are essentially radioactive nuclear materials that can be placed in conventional explosives‭, ‬and the resulting‭ ‬explosion vaporizes the toxic isotopes and spreads radiation over large areas‭. ‬Such bombs cause enormous psychological damage by‭ ‬exploiting the fear of invisible radiation‭, ‬or an economic problem by making certain areas off-limits for a long time‭. ‬Obtaining radioactive isotopes is relatively easy because of their widespread use in scientific and medical purposes‭, ‬such as radiotherapy for cancer patients‭, ‬or for industrial purposes‭, ‬such as killing bacteria in food‭, ‬sterilizing medical products‭, ‬examining solder joints‭, ‬and conducting research in physics and nuclear engineering‭.‬

Furthermore‭, ‬the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that most countries in the world have the radioactive materials needed to make a dirty bomb‭, ‬and lack sufficient means of control to prevent the theft of these materials‭.‬

Computer technologies

At the beginning of the second half of the 20th century‭, ‬the military was the main supporter of research and development for the‭ ‬electronic industries‭. ‬Some of the main forms of technical superiority in these areas were first developed for military systems‭, ‬including high-speed computer hardware and networks‭, ‬as scientists sought to increase the processing power of computer systems‭ ‬to develop weapons with massive destructive capabilities‭, ‬particularly‭, ‬nuclear weapons‭.‬

The first objective of supercomputer systems was to develop this type of weapon‭, ‬to the extent that the United States classified‭ ‬computer systems as strategic products‭, ‬imposing many restrictions on their export‭.‬

However‭, ‬computers developed for civilian purposes have often become more effective compared to those developed for military use‭, ‬and many companies are not interested in defence contracts‭, ‬because these contracts are characterized by low-profit margins‭, ‬slow decision-making processes‭, ‬secure purchases‭, ‬and difficulty in dealing with regulatory frameworks‭.‬

For example‭, ‬the US has upgraded aircraft equipped with the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System‭ (‬JSTARS‭) ‬to Block 20‭ ‬level by replacing outdated computer systems with off-the-shelf components from the civilian market‭. ‬The new design of the upgrade program features an integrated computer architecture and signal processor based on off-the-shelf components from the civilian‭ ‬market‭, ‬which can be easily upgraded‭, ‬allowing for the procurement of low-cost hardware and software that meets system requirements beyond the next twenty years‭.‬

One example of dual-use is computer simulations used by civil airlines and Airforces to train pilots‭. ‬For the military‭, ‬simulators not only reduce training costs but also allow for training in combat scenarios that are too dangerous to conduct in the field‭. ‬This technology allows for simulations that include more than one aircraft or tank and comprehensively replicates engagement operations‭. ‬It can also be used in the design and testing of new weapons‭, ‬in addition‭, ‬civilian companies use it to design electronic circuits‭, ‬computers‭, ‬communication devices‭, ‬and even new cars and planes‭, ‬before building a prototype‭.‬

Artificial Intelligence‭ (‬AI‭)‬

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science concerned with the study and design of an intelligent algorism that understands its environment and makes decisions that increase its chances of achieving its objective‭.‬

It is the science and engineering of making smart machines that can correctly interpret external data‭, ‬learn from that data and‭ ‬use it to achieve specific tasks and objectives‭, ‬in a manner similar to simulating human mental capabilities and patterns‭, ‬which‭ ‬are characterized by learning‭, ‬response‭, ‬and conclusion‭.‬

AI technology has been used in a wide range of civilian fields‭, ‬including expert systems‭, ‬automated control‭, ‬internet search engines‭, ‬natural language processing‭, ‬voice recognition‭, ‬image analysis‭, ‬video games‭, ‬and medical diagnostics‭.‬

Robots equipped with artificial intelligence technology can support production in factories‭, ‬without the need for human intervention in manufacturing‭, ‬packaging‭, ‬and other processes‭. ‬The military uses of artificial intelligence technology promise to provide great opportunities in the fields of improving target detection‭, ‬discrimination‭, ‬tracking and elimination capabilities‭. ‬All of‭ ‬these technological developments will have a profound effect on the nature of war in the future after providing distinctive capabilities in terms of speed of data processing‭, ‬automation of a combination of manned and unmanned weapon platforms and surveillance systems‭, ‬and decision-making in command and control systems‭.‬


Digitisation constitutes a paradigm shift in information and communication systems‭, ‬and it highlights the similarity between military and civilian networks‭. ‬Civilian information systems are usually characterized by a high level of quality that prompts military institutions to use them‭. ‬In the 1990s‭, ‬the biggest shift towards digitisation occurred with the digital revolution‭, ‬prompting military institutions to convert all their tools and devices to operate digitally‭. ‬The trend of digitising the broadcast and‭ ‬analysis of information opens a new field‭, ‬moving in several integrated directions‭, ‬both civil and military‭. ‬Digital data has become a necessary element in almost every weapon system‭, ‬as the digital battle is considered a‭ “‬smart‭” ‬application of information technology‭, ‬to achieve superiority on the battlefield‭, ‬without the need to create new platforms for weapons‭. ‬This provides the‭ ‬battlefield with a capacity similar to that of the internet after the digital technology of data began to expand gradually to include various military activities that depend on digital computers‭, ‬in all fields‭, ‬from analyzing and classifying information‭, ‬to developing combat plans‭, ‬communication‭, ‬and so on‭.‬

Laser technology

Laser technology is used in many civilian applications‭, ‬in the fields of medicine‭, ‬communications‭, ‬scientific and engineering research‭, ‬as well as the electronic industries‭, ‬accurate distance measuring devices‭, ‬and welding solid materials‭.‬

On the other hand‭, ‬military applications have witnessed a wide development that indicates moving in the same direction‭, ‬but with‭ ‬more diversity‭. ‬in this context‭, ‬a notable phenomenon can be seen‭, ‬with the gradual penetration of laser technology into the fields of weapons‭, ‬systems or components that are relatively small in size‭. ‬Modern wars have witnessed many uses of laser beams‭, ‬whether to designate targets and direct projectiles towards them or to measure the distance of these targets and distinguish them‭ ‬through LADAR‭, ‬in addition to the experiments conducted in the field of directed energy weapons on the use of the high power of‭ ‬laser beams to destroy ballistic missiles and drones‭.‬

The danger of laser beams does not lie in the difficulty of obstructing them‭, ‬but rather in their ability to paralyze the effectiveness of various means of vision‭, ‬whether with the naked eye or with optical devices and optical intensifiers‭, ‬given that lasers can disable or destroy any sensitive optical part‭.‬

The US lead the way

The US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‭ (‬DARPA‭) ‬has been pioneering the field of dual-use technologies‭, ‬such as advanced computer networking technologies‭, ‬including the ARPANET‭, ‬the predecessor to the Internet‭, ‬and parallel processors of information‭. ‬The US administration authorized the agency to spend large amounts of money‭, ‬in the form of funds for the private sector‭, ‬on researching these technologies‭.‬

Furthermore‭, ‬the US National Weapons Laboratories began to encourage similar activities to advance the cooperation between the government and the industry‭, ‬thus the US Los Alamos National Laboratory‭ (‬the birthplace of the atomic bomb‭) ‬announced that it would make the first commercial agreement of its kind‭, ‬with the help of a private company‭, ‬to improve the production of printed circuit boards‭. ‬The laboratory also announced that it would lend X-ray technology‭, ‬which had been developed for nuclear weapons research‭, ‬to a company that manufactures mammography machines to diagnose breast cancer in women‭, ‬and at that time the media announced‭, “‬that the defensive technology has turned to the war on breast cancer‭.”‬

Military requirements encouraged the rapid spread of new technologies in the US‭. ‬For example‭, ‬in 1937‭, ‬two companies developed MARC computers for the US Navy and beginning in 1939‭, ‬the Bell Laboratories worked on computers for the US Army’s artillery‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬in 1944‭, ‬the US Army supported the‭ “‬ENIAC‭” ‬computer development program‭, ‬the first-ever digital computer‭, ‬at a university‭.‬

In addition‭, ‬in the late 1950s‭, ‬computer-aided design programs were developed for the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile program‭. ‬The years of World War II witnessed many innovations in many areas of civilian technology‭, ‬some of which were based on pre-war research‭, ‬but remained unfinished until Washington funded them to help the Allied forces‭.‬

Military specifications tolerance

Both military and civil technology require special specifications‭, ‬as well as some common ones‭, ‬and given that the technology that falls within this overlapping area is in more demand‭, ‬it is usually characterized by a faster rate of development as it enjoys the benefit of both sectors‭, ‬military and civil‭, ‬while the specifications unique to each sector get less interest and therefore less support and progress‭.‬

The military sector can obtain many new capabilities from the civilian industrial sector‭, ‬especially in the information and electronics sectors‭, ‬where competition plays a major role in advancing research and development‭.‬

The elements of basic and applied research are the same‭, ‬and the main difference is adding defence specifications‭, ‬which adds to‭ ‬the cost‭.‬

Often‭, ‬the military was not satisfied with the specifications of civilian technology and insisted on getting military specifications‭, ‬which resulted in less utilization of civilian technology in military applications‭. ‬However‭, ‬recent decades have seen great developments in some civilian technologies‭, ‬which made the military rethink its stand on military specifications and the feasibility of spending on developing technologies that meet these standards‭.‬

Therefore‭, ‬taking advantage of civilian technology in military applications became a growing trend and now most modern technologies are used in both fields‭, ‬which can be seen particularly in the field of information technology‭. ‬However‭, ‬the military’s increasing use of off-the-shelf civilian technologies in the field of information systems increases the risks of exposure to viruses‭, ‬as well as the chances of using familiar systems with known vulnerabilities‭, ‬which would justify the use of separate networks‭ ‬for the flow of highly sensitive information and key command and control communications‭, ‬despite pressures for cost reduction‭.‬

In 1994‭, ‬the Pentagon began amending the Military Specifications policy‭, ‬so that it may only be used narrowly‭, ‬effectively giving officials the authority to purchase civilian components‭, ‬unless there was a strong reason to stick to military specifications‭.‬‭ ‬Thus‭, ‬the US Department of Defense changed its procurement system‭, ‬by moving away from preferring military specifications towards civilian specifications‭. ‬To put things into perspective‭, ‬when the US Air Force authorized the purchase of civilian components‭,‬‭ ‬the cost of the Joint Direct Attack Munition‭ (‬JDAM‭) ‬was half its former cost‭. ‬The C-17‭ ‬military transport aircraft program was‭ ‬on the verge of cancellation in 1993‭, ‬but under the new system‭, ‬it is meeting the requirements ahead of schedule and saving up to‭ $‬5‭ ‬billion through the use of civilian components‭.‬

In 1995‭, ‬the US Congress authorized the implementation of five pilot programs‭, ‬giving their managers complete authority over the‭ ‬use of civilian components and practices‭, ‬and these five programs were important not only for the savings they could achieve but also because they could pioneer all purchases for the Ministry of Defense‭, ‬given that the wider use of civilian components not‭ ‬only leads to cost reduction but leads to better products as well‭.‬

The five programs selected include‭, ‬the JDAM bomb program‭, ‬the Combined Arms Tactical Training Device‭, ‬and the Aircraft Initial‭ ‬Training System‭, ‬which all proved that the use of civilian products‭, ‬leads to improvements in the development and delivery schedules at a lower cost‭. ‬For years‭, ‬the world’s armed forces have been using computers that have been subjected to severe testing conditions‭, ‬capable of operating in temperatures below zero and above 170‭ ‬degrees Celsius‭, ‬and can withstand impacts of up to 30‭ ‬pounds‭.‬

These devices have a strong external casing to maintain their internal components‭, ‬which are fixed in a way that ensures that they do not move when subjected to shocks‭, ‬but these requirements are associated with an increase in cost‭. ‬However‭, ‬since the late‭ ‬1980s‭, ‬the military started to ease these restrictions‭, ‬especially after the wars in the Gulf and Afghanistan demonstrated the‭ ‬performance efficiency of computers designed for civilian uses‭, ‬which prompted military officials to resort to civilian companies‭.‬

Dual-use technology control agreements

Dual-use technologies represent a major obstacle to arms control efforts‭, ‬given that any strategy based on prohibiting access to‭ ‬dual-use products is impossible‭, ‬however‭, ‬dual-use technology itself is not the threat‭, ‬thus prohibiting access to it is only done when a trend to misuse it emerges‭, ‬or when the risk of potential misuse is high‭. ‬Currently‭, ‬there are 4‭ ‬international control agreements for dual-use technology‭, ‬which aim to maintain regional and global stability and security‭, ‬and prevent extremist groups from accessing these technologies‭, ‬and these agreements are‭:‬

•‭ ‬Wassenaar Arrangement‭ (‬WA‭) ‬on export controls of conventional weapons‭, ‬technologies and dual-use goods‭:‬‭ ‬a Multilateral Export Control Regime‭ (‬MECR‭) ‬through an international body Established in 1996‭, ‬implemented by 42‭ ‬countries which monitor their national export operations‭, ‬however‭, ‬this agreement is not a legally binding treaty for members who exchange information on conventional arms transfers to non-member states every 6‭ ‬months‭. ‬These weapons include tanks‭, ‬armoured vehicles‭, ‬large-calibre artillery‭, ‬fixed-wing military aircraft‭, ‬military helicopters‭, ‬warships‭, ‬missile systems‭, ‬and light and small arms‭.‬

•‭ ‬The Nuclear Suppliers Group‭ (‬NSG‭) ‬for nuclear technologies control‭: ‬This group includes several nuclear materials exporting countries‭, ‬and aims to prevent nuclear proliferation‭. ‬It was founded in‭ ‬1975‭ ‬with only 7‭ ‬countries‭, ‬but now it includes 48‭ ‬countries‭, ‬and its objectives align with every treaty and agreement in this regard‭.‬

•‭ ‬The Australia Group‭ (‬AG‭) ‬for the control of chemical and biological technologies used in weapons‭:‬‭ ‬It is an informal group‭, ‬formed by 15‭ ‬countries in 1985‭, ‬but now it includes 43‭ ‬countries‭, ‬and aims to reduce the risks of the‭ ‬spread of chemical and biological weapons‭, ‬and holds an annual meeting in Paris‭.‬

•‭ ‬Missile Technology Control Regime‭ (‬MTCR‭): ‬This system was developed in 1987‭ ‬by the G-7‭ ‬industrialized countries‭, ‬and now 35‭ ‬countries participate in it‭, ‬to set the criteria for the non-proliferation of platforms capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction‭ (‬except for manned aircraft‭), ‬with a focus on missiles and drones that carry more than 500‭ ‬kg‭ (‬1,100‭ ‬lb‭) ‬and have a range of more than 300‭ ‬km‭ (‬190‭ ‬miles‭).‬

In addition to these agreements‭, ‬Washington imposes economic sanctions on countries that export dual-use materials for civilian‭ ‬and military purposes‭, ‬or sensitive technologies that can be used in the manufacture of prohibited weapons‭, ‬the US also sanctions the countries that import these materials and products‭, ‬to prevent them from using them to make weapons‭. ‬The US accuses Russia‭ ‬and China of selling sensitive technologies that can be used for civilian and military purposes to countries such as Iran and North Korea‭, ‬which Washington considers a threat in terms of the spread of non-conventional weapons‭. ‬On April 28‭, ‬2004‭, ‬the UN Security Council unanimously decided that all states should refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors trying‭ ‬to develop nuclear‭, ‬chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery‭, ‬possession‭, ‬manufacture‭, ‬transfer or use‭, ‬and issued Resolution No‭. ‬1540‭.‬


Countries have been spending generously throughout history‭, ‬on the development of technologies required for military use‭, ‬whether this is of importance to their national security‭, ‬or to achieve a large return from marketing these technologies in the arms market‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬the development of these technologies was not affected much by natural market constraints‭, ‬or economic conditions‭, ‬compared to technologies that are developed specifically for civilian uses‭, ‬which often receive less funding‭. ‬It was only natural for the civilian sector to attempt to take advantage of military technologies‭, ‬as was the case with aviation‭, ‬radios‭, ‬radars‭, ‬computers‭, ‬and space‭, ‬as both sectors realized that whenever military and civilian specifications align‭, ‬technical progress‭ ‬accelerates‭, ‬and that this is the most cost-effective method‭.‬

‮«‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Major General Dr Ali Muhammad Ali Rajab‭ ‬‭(‬military researcher and strategic expert‭)‬

Al Jundi

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