What We Know About UCSB’s Newly Disclosed Contracts With Defense Manufacturers

text by News Director

30 June, 2024

Story by Zoha Malik || Listen to the story on SoundCloud

The University of California at Santa Barbara released copies of its 2016-2021 contracts with defense contractors on May 20, 2024, after a three-year-old California Public Records Act, or CPRA, Request from Central Coast Antiwar Coalition Chair Marcy Winograd. 

The twenty-four released contracts, which total to millions of dollars, show university partnerships with companies such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman, all of which provide some variation of weaponry or surveillance technology to Israel. They detail financial deals in which the university provides research or some other service for one of the aforementioned manufacturers in exchange for a sum of money, which range from $40,000 to nearly $6 million. These contracts are likely not all of those which the university held with these companies during the 2016-2021 time period, as the Public Records Office had reportedly written back to Winograd in 2021 that the university had approximately 398 Department of Defense related contracts. 

Members of the UCSB Liberated Zone encampment were also involved in the effort to retrieve these documents. The UCSB Liberated Zone did not respond to KCSB News’ requests for comment. The Central Coast Antiwar Coalition, as well the Liberated Zone, have continuously called on the university to cut financial ties with military contractors. 

I reached out to UCSB’s Public Records Coordinator, Monica Dussert, for comment on the three year waiting period. For context, to comply with the California Public Records Act, a response to a request must be given within 10 days and compliance should be done within 14 days unless there are unusual circumstances. During these unusual circumstances, a written notice should give reasons for the extension and should give the new date the documents will be provided. She referred me to UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes, who stated that while “CPRA laws require the University to acknowledge the requests within 10 days of receipt (which was done here), but the response times for the actual production of responsive documents may vary.” The same day I received this email, Dussert emailed Winograd telling her she would receive a response to her CPRA requests. Four days after these email exchanges, Winograd received the contracts. 

The 2017-2018 Boeing contracts describe chip technology, Raytheon’s 2019-2020 contracts describe “energy-efficient, high-data-rate transmission of digital signals between computing systems,” and, in the case of the 2016 General Dynamics contract, “unmanned systems,” meaning — using robots to conduct military operations. 

In a press release from the Central Coast Antiwar Coalition after these contracts were disclosed, the organization writes that the quote-unquote engineering jargon in these contracts — from Boeing’s “heterogeneous integration” to Lockheed Martin’s “cell architecture development”– likely refers to the purpose or end product of “robotic soldiers to weaponize space and laser-guided bombs for “warfighting” aircraft.”

Winograd had originally submitted the request for these contracts to find out what was happening at UCSB with military research, particularly after observing known relationships between UCSB and defense manufacturers who have historically worked in research with UCSB, as well as provide internships to students. 

I spoke with Winograd after she’d received the contracts to learn more about what she thought of them. She told me looking at these contracts proved to her the university had financial ties with companies involved in Israel’s continued bombardment on Gaza. 

WINOGRAD: “Now these contracts preceded October 7th, and what we’re seeing now [with] the annihilation in Gaza. But we have no idea if the research that students provided, basically [for] a low price, right, for these corporations, has been used in the development of weapons systems. But what I learned, basically, in receiving these 24 PDF documents, many of them modifications of existing documents, was that the university is partnering with these military contractors to develop technology for missiles, for fighter jets: F-35 F-16…”

Winograd went on to point out that much of the language in these documents is scientific jargon, which could make it difficult for the average person to understand. Here Winograd is speaking about the nearly $6 million 2016 General Dynamics contract.

WINOGRAD: “…And research laboratory’s “warfighting experimentation” in “unmanned vehicles,” — those are drones, right? Or robots, in this case, they are robots. Now, the Department of Defense, it says in the contract, is “exploiting technology and expertise where it exists.” Okay, that’s cheap labor at the university to promote “soldier trust and confidence” in semi-autonomous weapons with “biological limbs” perfected for “manipulation and mobility” and artificial intelligence to interpret non-verbal cues in “high tempo environments.” So we see euphemisms like “high-tempo environments.” What are those environments? Those are wars, right? So what we’re looking at is the university partnering with General Dynamics to contract with the [U.S.] Army Research Laboratory’s war-fighting experimentation in semi-autonomous warfare.”

She also points out the risks in developing these technologies. 

WINOGRAD: “…and that carries great risks. Of course, I mean, all war is lethal and not only to us as the human race, but also to the planet, in terms of the pollution: land, water, air, and the greenhouse gas emissions. But now we’re talking about creating a world where we can somehow divorce ourselves, or think we’re divorcing ourselves, from the human suffering and misery that we inflict on others by developing semi-autonomous weapons that will do the killing for us. This is really grotesque.”

Winograd went on to speak about a separate contract with Lockheed Martin from 2016. 

WINOGRAD: “Another agreement was a 2 million dollar 2016 contract with Lockheed Martin for sensor cell development and testing[…] the most advanced sensor family for precision targeting. We know there’s really no such thing as precision targeting, this is a myth. But what we’re talking about is fighter jets, missiles, bombs.”

Winograd described the role the military holds at UCSB, particularly with the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies on campus — which is described as an Army-sponsored University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). 

WINOGRAD: “On the UCSB website, you can read about the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies. What’s that? That is specifically funded by the Department of Defense to develop technology, again, for robotic soldiers, radar absorbent missiles, 3D printed bomber parts, drones, and chemical “amplification,” to improve soldiers vision and hearing for the future battlefield.”

Another research program UC Santa Barbara joined recently which has sponsors including the Department of Defense, and partners such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman, is the California Defense Ready Electronic and Microdevices Superhub (California DREAMS), which UC Santa Barbara’s official news site The Current describes as “one of eight Microelectronics Commons regional innovation hubs.” It was established in October 2023 by the U.S. Department of Defense. 

The agency’s first awards were worth a total of $238 million, which the Current goes on to say “are intended to create a national network and direct pathway to advance the discovery, innovation and fabrication of domestic microelectronic technology, such as circuits and chips, with funding from the “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act.”” This bill, which was passed in 2022, intends to provide about $250 billion to invest in semiconductor research and development, among other related goals. Other UCs, including UC Los Angeles, UC Riverside, and UC San Diego, are also involved. 

I spoke with Professor of ​Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Director of the UCSB Nanofabrication Facility, Jonathan Klamkin, who is the lead representative for UCSB for the California HuB, and who also serves on the Technological Steering Committee.

KLAMKIN: “So the Microelectronics Commons is a program that came out of the CHIPS and Science act. So for those that may have heard about the CHIPS and Science act in the media, this is a major program that passed through Congress sometime ago. It’s been active for about a year, but now funding is starting to flow down. And what this came from was the need for having more semiconductor manufacturing on shore. Oftentimes, we develop things and then send the manufacturing overseas, and you know, while that’s okay for certain technologies, if you offshore all of your manufacturing, that poses some problems when it comes to things like national security and supply chain security and whatever [unintelligible] innovation security. So, if you recall there were issues during COVID with a shortage of chips. Car manufacturers had problems getting cars off their line because they couldn’t get access to chips. And that puts the US in kind of a difficult position, if a lot of these very important chips that go into consumer products and in the government products are all made, you know, very far away. It kind of complicates the supply chain and creates a security issue. So what the CHIPS and Science Act is hoping to do is bring a little bit more of that manufacturing back to the US, in part because it’ll provide a lot of jobs. It’ll help secure important technology [in] the supply chain for this important technology and it’ll also allow us to continue to innovate if we have more people working in some of these semiconductor fabs. We’re going to generate more intellectual property and be able to transition some people from, say, jobs as car mechanics to very high-tech jobs in the semiconductor workforce.”

I asked Klamkin why it was important for the university to maintain research ties to companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or Raytheon. He told me that, due to their regional proximity, the school is playing into its  local strengths. 

KLAMKIN: “So regional strengths for us for example are wireless communications. A few other companies that you didn’t mention, a lot of small companies that are involved might not have been mentioned in the press releases because they’re not receiving direct funding from the base Hub, but they are getting funding from the research projects. So there’s a number of startup companies that have spun out of UCSB that are involved. There’s companies like PDF Solutions, Qualcomm, Keysight, a few others that sort of work in this area and are either already members of our Hub or are trying to join. So that’s playing to our regional strengths because the aerospace industry is very big in Southern California. You could imagine a team that formed, maybe, in Northern California would try to partner with some of the Bay Area companies, like Google or Facebook, that are doing things in the AI space. In Southern California, wireless communications is very strong, telecommunication sensors.”

I asked Klamkin to clarify the role national security had to play in the research we do at UCSB. 

KLAMKIN: “Well, you know, national security has a lot of meanings, but if the high-tech chips that we make, that go into a lot of our products, if those chips are not made at all in the US and somehow, you know, something happens in another part of the world that cuts off that supply, that puts us in a very difficult position. You know, what if Apple suddenly couldn’t get any more chips? How were they going to manufacture phones? What if Nvidia suddenly couldn’t get any more chips? A lot of people are starting to use these AI features on their phones, in their computers. Nvidia has a lot of those chips made in other countries. I think you really just need a good balance between where things are made, if only 10% or 12% of the world’s Advanced chips are made in the US, that doesn’t put us in a very good position to provide national and economic security, you know, so maybe there’s a better balance. Like some percentage of that should come back to the US, it’s good because it’ll provide jobs, it’ll allow us to continue to innovate in manufacturing and high tech. And we won’t be, you know, entirely reliant on certain other countries to make chips. You really want, you know, your chips to come from multiple sources and at least some fraction of them to be made on-shore.”

A news release from the U.S. Department of Defense from September 2023 cites Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks during a briefing at the Pentagon, when she said “the Microelectronics Commons will get the most cutting-edge microchips into systems our troops use every day: ships, planes, tanks, long-range munitions, communications gear, sensors and much more.”

Concern over the university’s relationships with defense manufacturers and the military is not unique to Winograd. UC Divest at UCSB, a coalition made up of groups like UCSB Jewish Voice for Peace and UCSB Students for Justice in Palestine, has been calling for divestment since January of this year — and individually, SJP has been calling for it for much longer. One post on UC Divest at UCSB’s Instagram publicizing a rally earlier this year stated that the UC system continues to “invest in war manufacturing and defense contractors that directly contribute to this genocide,” referring to Israel’s bombardment on Gaza. UC Divest at UCSB did not respond to KCSB News’ requests for comment.

Actions to push for and materially divest have been taken by the UCSB student government’s legislative body, the Associated Students Senate, which passed a resolution to divest and a bill to use AS funds in alignment with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movements, within the past two months — such actions have been attempted by students at UCSB since 2013. KCSB News previously reported on these legislative actions. 

It is unclear whether or not UCSB has considered the demands of the AS Senate, student groups and local activists like Winograd. 

In response to questions from KCSB News on why the university continues to maintain these relationships, whether the university plans to end them, or whether the university is concerned about the wider, global effects of these relationships, UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes stated that UC Santa Barbara itself “does not conduct classified or weapons research,” as “such research would carry dissemination restrictions that are generally not acceptable.” Reyes went on to state that “the campus conducts fundamental research under export control regulations, which allow for the open publication, dissemination, and use of research information.” Reyes has not yet responded to follow-up questions on the relationships the university maintains with defense manufacturers. 

As a whole, the UC system has remained opposed to divestment. AP News reported that UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher told UC Board of Regents in May that, halting its investments in weapons manufacturers, the investment firms Blackstone and BlackRock, and two dozen companies across the entertainment, technology and beverage industries, which is what the UC Divest Coalition is asking for, would cost the UC system 32 billion of its 175 billion dollar portfolio, meaning nearly ⅕ of it — an action the UC is reluctant to take. And, according to a statement from the UC Office of the President from April of this year, the university system will not boycott or divest from Israel because “a boycott of this sort impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses.” 

However, Winograd stated she considered this evaluation by Bachner as a step in the right direction. 

WINOGRAD: “It would cost the university system the UC system 32 billion of [the] 175 billion dollar portfolio. Okay, that’s, you know, that is in itself a victory. It may be a small one. But we have to say this is disclosure and that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that kind of disclosure.”

KCSB News has submitted two CPRA requests to view contracts on this topic. The first CPRA request was on May 15, 2024, for the number of and copies of UCSB’s DOD-related contracts, between 2020 and the present, with Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and L3Harris for weapons development and research, as well as the dollar amount and any amount between the university and those companies to rent out a lab space. UCSB Public Records Coordinator Monica Dussert responded, stating that the university does not “have any records responsive to this request.”

The second KCSB News CPRA request was on May 23, 2024, and detailed a more specific request for any and all documents, correspondence, agreements, contracts, memoranda of understanding, or materials related to UCSB’s involvement California DREAMS and the Department of Defense’s Microelectronics Commons regional innovation hubs. I also requested records for communication between UCSB and the corporate entities including but not limited to Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Teledyne Technologies, and HRL Laboratories, from January 1, 2020 to the present. Dussert replied, stating that due to a high volume of requests, they anticipated providing a response around August 26, 2024.

This story is ongoing. Thank you for listening. With KCSB News, I’m Zoha Malik.

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