Why TU Delft collaborates with the defence industry

For many years, TU Delft has been working with other universities, companies and governments to contribute to concrete innovative solutions to societal problems. In addition to scientific education and research, this is a statutory task for universities in the Netherlands, including TU Delft.

With this in mind, TU Delft, like many other institutions, collaborates with companies in the defence industry. However, some people are critical of this collaboration. TU Delft wants to be transparent about why the university collaborates with the defence industry.

Defence contributes to peace and security

The Netherlands is a resilient democracy, a member of NATO, the European Union and the United Nations. The Dutch Defence Force defends its own territory, Dutch interests and friendly countries. The Defence Force stands up for others, provides support in the event of disasters and thus contributes to peace, freedom and security in the world.

Compared to a few years ago, there is now a greater need for security in society and therefore a greater appreciation for defence. This is undoubtedly related to the war in Ukraine, but also to geopolitical conflicts and increased threats elsewhere in the world.

Cooperation between knowledge institutions and the defence industry more necessary than ever

The Dutch government believes that Europe must quickly become less dependent on other countries and take more responsibility for defence, both within NATO and in the EU.

In order to increase European strength, countries need to develop and buy more equipment together and at a faster pace, also when it comes to protecting the EU’s peace and security (see report).

The research and innovation agenda of the EU and the Netherlands is adapting to this. There is a shift in innovation budgets towards defence-related research.

Collaboration is in line with TU Delft’s mission

TU Delft’s mission is ’impact for a better society’. Social challenges are leading in this. In times of increasing geopolitical tensions, this also means an increased focus on developing innovative defence technology when society demands it.

TU Delft agrees with the Dutch government’s position that the defence of its own territory and that of its allies requires a stable base of knowledge institutions and companies that ensure that the Netherlands has the right military knowledge, technology and capabilities.

Collaboration with other universities and defence companies, both within and outside the European Union, is a social obligation for TU Delft in the interest of peace, freedom and security. An open exchange of knowledge is the basis for scientific progress and the application of scientific knowledge in practice.

Knowledge security

TU Delft is aware of its social duty to contribute to peace, freedom and security. At the same time, the university is aware that collaboration with individuals or institutions also involves risks that must be managed. It is important that decisions on partnerships are always made carefully, taking into account the rights and interests of all parties involved.

TU Delft has a Knowledge Security Advisory Team that helps staff to assess risks and check them against laws and regulations. This advisory team has drawn up a Knowledge Security Advisory Policy to help researchers determine whether collaboration with an institution or person is permitted or desirable.

It goes without saying that TU Delft does not collaborate with organisations that pose a threat to national security. The same applies to persons on the National Terrorism Sanctions List.

Safe discussion on moral aspects of collaboration with the defence industry

It is vital that staff and students are able to express themselves freely on this issue. The university must be a safe place to explore together the arguments for and against collaboration. It is appropriate for a university to facilitate the debate on the moral aspects of research for the defence industry. TU Delft does this, for example, by setting up a Moral Deliberation Chamber 1 . The moral judgement then lies with the researcher.

Collaboration with Lockheed Martin

The above describes in detail why TU Delft collaborates with companies in the defence industry. Recently, activists have specifically criticised the collaboration between TU Delft and the American company Lockheed Martin.

In order to avoid misunderstandings or misinformation about this collaboration, TU Delft provides the facts about this collaboration. The collaboration with Lockheed Martin concerns

  1. An internship programme for students. Every year, about 8 Master students in Aerospace Engineering do a five-month internship at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The students apply their knowledge of aircraft technology, working in particular on the optimisation and quality control of the production process and maintenance of the F-35. Lockheed Martin is one of the many companies where the students complete an internship. An internship of several months is compulsory for all MSc Aerospace Engineering students at TU Delft. Every year, around 400 students take part. Three quarters of them go abroad for their internship. They go to companies and institutions all’over the world, such as NASA, Qantas, KLM, NLR, Airbus, Porsche, BMW and also Lockheed Martin. The internship programme with Lockheed Martin was started in 2003 to give students the opportunity to work on aircraft technology in an international environment. The internship programme is a collaboration with GKN Aerospace.
  2. At the faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Lockheed Martin pays for a part-time professor to supervise PhD candidates and give lectures on aviation materials.
1 A Moral Deliberation Chamber is a method to investigate dilemmas from work practice related to knowledge security in a step-by-step manner. This pilot at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science has been continued across the university in 2023/2024. In other areas (such as collaboration with the fossil fuel industry and the defence sector), it is also being explored how moral deliberation benefits careful decision-making, transparency and learning.