ENTANGLED: GRAPHENE, ARMS, ISRAEL
AND THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
In October 2017, Versarien PLC announced a collaboration agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to develop graphene-enhanced aerospace composites. IAI is Israel’s state-owned arms company and its biggest supplier of drones, widely deployed over Gaza. IAI agreed to buy Nanene, Versarien’s patented process to produce graphene.
Nanene was jointly developed by the University of Manchester – a pioneering centre for graphene research – the University of Ulster, and Versarien. The UoM graphene production company 2-D Tech was sold to Versarien in 2014, with the University retaining shares. UoM now also holds shares in Versarien, one of whose Directors is the former head of the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK).
In November 2014, Versarien formed a 50:50 joint venture with Dimar Limited, a leading manufacturer of cutting tools based in Israel, to distribute a new range of tooling for the composites industry. In 2014 the Fimi Group bought 70% of Dimar, becoming the majority owner. Fimi is an Israeli holding group specializing in security. Fimi also invest in IAI's ImageSat International, which provides “space intelligence to armies, governments and commercial customers to obtain visual intelligence and up-to-date snapshots of the target area”.
Graphene batteries and supercapacitors can be used in drone propulsion. In 2016, Versarien signed a memorandum of understanding with Warwick Manufacturing Group to collaborate on power storage devices, using graphene nano platelets.
According to Versarien’s Chief Executive Neil Ricketts, the IAI contract stemmed from a UK Trade & Industry (now the Dept. of International Trade) mission to Israel about 2 years ago. By coincidence or not, in February 2016 the then Minister for Culture Matthew Hancock MP met Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu during a cyber-security trade mission, during which the UK announced policy to prevent local authorities from choosing not to buy goods from Israeli settlements.
The facts raise some awkward questions:
• Is it in the best interests of students and staff that University research contracts are so heavily tilted towards the arms industry?
• How does the University cater for science and engineering students who do not wish to have any involvement with the military in general or with arming Israel in particular?
• Should the University be able to hide the implications of its own research or the involvement of its partners in human rights abuses and war crimes?
• Who decides which funding strands and collaborations are legitimate to pursue?
• Who benefits from those close links with the arms industry?
• What efforts have staff made to develop projects without military involvement, or to seek alternative funding using the same skills and academic and technical expertise?
• Does academic freedom include the freedom to view and consider University finances?
The UoM and IAI jointly participate in EU funded projects. AFLONEXT, continuing to 31 May 2018, concerns “flow control technologies for novel aircraft configurations”. UoM's School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE), IAI and European arms firms take part.
MULTIPROTECT involved the UoM and IAI, developing protection against corrosion using “smart nanocomposite materials with new nanoparticles”. Other recipients included the Israeli firm SHL-Alubin and the Technion. Alubin supplies Israeli military industries including RAFAEL, El-OP, and Elbit.
Technion is the foremost Israeli university doing military research.
The UoM participated in the GAMMA programme (Growing Autonomous Systems Mission Management Applications), a partnership involving BAE. The UoM (School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering) supported GAMMA “on every aspect of the sensor and control theme”. One GAMMA sensor project, developed in Liverpool, concerned simulation of “Wide Field of View sensor systems [which] allow persistent, continuous video surveillance of an entire town or city”. The project approximated the specifications of the BAe/DARPA ARGUS-IS sensor, used in MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drones deployed by the US and UK for targetted assassination.
The EU funded project 3AS – Active aeroelastic aircraft structure – involved UoM with European arms firms and Technion. Prof Jonathan E Cooper, then at MACE, suggested that “the first implementations of adaptive aeroelastic structures will be in UAVs” [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, a.k.a. drones], and mentioned “a current research interest, driven by stealth requirements, in developing flapless UAVs”. NATO published a paper by Prof Cooper funded through 3AS. Flapless UAVs were the subject of a 5 year collaboration FLAVIIR funded by BAE (the world’s 3rd biggest arms firm) and the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) involving UoM and 9 other British universities.
UoM Computer Science co-authored research with Bar-Ilan University in Israel on Multiagent Systems. It was partly funded by the US Army Research Office, the US Army Research Laboratory, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and a subcontract from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US Dept of Defense). Drone swarms can be modelled as multiagent systems.
This EU funded project involved UoM (Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science), the Israeli firm Tracetech Security and the Ministry of Public Security, the Israeli government agency which oversees the Police and Prison Service. It also covers the Border Police, who operate at the Apartheid Wall, oversee house demolitions, repress nonviolent Palestinian demonstrators, arrest and abuse children. SNIFFER concerned the capture and analysis of odours for border security applications, replacing dogs.
The CEO for the National Graphene Institute and Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is James Baker, worked at BAE Systems for 16 years.
BAE supply Israel with components for F-16s and “smart” artillery shells. The jets were exported by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms firm and an NGI partner along with Thales, which supplies the British Army Watchkeeper drone in a joint venture with the Israeli firm Elbit. Another partner, Qinetiq, is a spinoff from the MoD. The GEIC Advisory Council includes BAE, Thales, and Versarien.
The following demands on the University could form the basis for campaigning:
• The University will refrain from any cooperation in military or security fields with Israeli academic, State or industrial organisations, while Israel continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions and international law including the 4th Geneva Convention.
• The University will end investment, commercial and research collaboration with Versarien and its subsidiaries, in view of Versarien’s contract with Israel Aerospace Industries, which draws directly on research at the University of Manchester.
• The University will adopt and implement policies of complete transparency over past, present and future research projects, so that their implications can be considered in full.
• The University will put no pressure on students to carry out research projects involving the arms industry, and will offer alternatives.
• The University will commit significant resources to exploring and developing alternative industrial strategies in conjunction with trade unions and relevant experts, to end the University’s reliance on the arms industry and to develop socially useful production.