How Lack of Diversity in Fragmented Military Contracting Diminishes Engineers’ Moral Autonomy and Limits Civil Hypersonic Development

Franklin, Joshua, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, EN-Engineering and Society PV-Summer & Spec Acad Progs, University of Virginia

Sociotechnical Synthesis

How Lack of Diversity in Fragmented Military Contracting Diminishes Engineers’ Moral Autonomy and Limits Civil Hypersonic Development

Annually, NASA and the US government spends billions of dollars on contracts for space projects and military hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic technology has the potential to revolutionized the way humans enter space. Instead of implementing expensive rocket-based missions, hypersonic could increase access to space using reusable vehicles and decrease fuel waste. Civil applications such as launching more communication systems and hypersonic experiments are limited by the contracting process. Each contract has a set of deliverables that are made by the Department of Defense and Congress and executed by third-party contractors. In my research paper I analyze why humans are limited to space exploration because of the contracting structure and lack of perspective. The contract structure limits who has access to space due to uneven distributions of government spending and disproportionally prohibits people of color from entering space enterprises over time because of the lack of civil pursuits.
The secondary goal is to understand the vanity in technological superiority of the military industrial complex and its effects on social groups and space innovation. Vanity is defined as the production of hypersonic space technology for destruction and not for civil innovation. The central idea goal of this research is to explain not what to change but why it is necessary to make these changes to the current contracting military structure.
The reason I chose this research is while at my time at a major defense contractor, I questioned some of the deliverables of the project I was working on. The project was the AGM-183a boost-glide hypersonic missile. I had to possess a security clearance to work the project and a need-to-know in order to work with sensitive data pertaining only to the guidance-navigation-controls portions of the flight. I was not permitted to know any major mechanical piece or capabilities of the glider. In doing simulations with different coordinate trajectories and aerodynamic modeling I question capabilities of the missile. I asked about potential fall-out of the weapon and I was met with vague answer such as any warhead that accomplished the mission. Warhead can range from nuclear designed for a large blowout to precision which destroys a target within a 5 to 10ft.
The fragmentation of engineering work and the deliverables of the contracting structure rob engineers of moral autonomy. Entire teams of engineers are left without information of a product that allows them to make moral decision whether or not they wish to work on that project. From the top is where the weapon capabilities are defined by the Department of Defense and other intelligence agencies without a check from diverse perspectives.
In this research paper I go into depth about how contracting structure increases negative technological competition between space superpowers, limits the potential of hypersonic innovation because of vain agendas that do not benefit human life, and robs engineers of moral autonomy. The solution is to be critical of the contracts at all level from DoD to completion of the project at the blue-collar contractor level. As space technology becomes more advance it will be increasingly important to maintain moral autonomy in the field.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Hypersonics, Diversity, Contracting, Inequality, Military, Space, Fragmentation, Autonomy

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering

Technical Advisor: Chris Goyne

STS Advisor: Kathryn Neely

Technical Team Members: Noah Dunn, Amy Lee, Andrew Metro, Carlos Perez, Carsten Connolly, Charlie Osborne, Emma Auld, Hannah Boyles, Isaac Morrison, , Micah Whitmire, Sam Goodkind, Taylor Chandler, Vincent Tate, Yulie Cheng

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