HEDGE: Hypersonic ReEntry Deployable Glider Experiment; A Political Technologies and Kantian Analysis of the Naval Bombardment of Vieques

Fournier Jaiman, Jashianette, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

A nation’s geopolitical standing is often defined by the power of its’ military. In 2022, the most powerful nations in the world have set their sights on developing hypersonic weapons systems to bolster their military power. The research in this portfolio documents the feasibility to conduct hypersonic experiments and the consequences of testing military weapons in proximity of civilian populations. The aim of the technical project is for a group of 15 university students to perform and gather flight data from a hypersonic experiment using a test article deployed from a CubeSat in ELEO. The science, technology, and society (STS) research will examine the ethical nature of conducting military training exercises in proximity of civilian populations by conducting a case study of the naval bombardment of Vieques. While the end goal of the technical project aims to further advancements in hypersonic weaponry, the STS project places an emphasis on the negative consequences of the military training exercises required to properly use the weaponry.\

CubeSats are small satellites flown in low earth orbit. As the CubeSats orbit Earth in Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO), they fly at hypersonic speeds and re-enter the atmosphere in five to seven days. By reducing the drag during re-entry, the hypersonic flight can be prolonged. The use of a CubeSat is well suited for university students due to the lower cost and greater accessibility associated with CubeSats. The motivation for conducting a hypersonic experiment is to contribute to the advancement of hypersonic commercial aircraft, spacecraft, and weapons systems. Additionally, the undergraduate students conducting the research will gain knowledge allowing them to directly enter the hypersonics workforce.

From 1941 until 2003, the US Navy occupied two-thirds of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. During their time on Vieques, the US Navy used the island for a variety of training exercises for their Atlantic fleet. About 120 of the Navy’s 180 training days were allocated to live fire training; a live fire training exercise gone wrong led to the death of a Vieques civilian guard in April 1999 (O’Rourke, 2001). As the US Navy continues to develop new weapons, they will need to develop new measures to test and train their soldiers to use said weapons. This paper aims to answer the question: are the US Navy’s training practices ethical when considering their effects on the local population? News reports, historical accounts, official government reports, and research studies are utilized to fully comprehend the impact of the US Navy on the Vieques locals. The theory of political technologies is applied to understand the factors contributing to the power imbalance between the US Navy and Vieques. Kantian theory will address how the power imbalance allowed the US Navy to disregard their ethical duty to the people of Vieques. The results will provide an ethical case study for decision makers to refer to when determining how to develop new training procedures for current and future training sites. Additionally, the results should contribute to a broader engineering conversation concerning the ethical nature of continuing to develop and test military weapons.

While the technical project in this portfolio focuses on conducting an experiment which will benefit the development of military weaponry, the STS research serves as a reminder of ethical duties concerning military operations. If hypersonic weapons will continue to be developed then it is imperative to find the most ethical way of proceeding with the research, testing, and deployment of such weapons. The STS research demonstrates the gravity of unethical practices concerning the use of weapons. Working on the two projects in conjunction with one another encourages engineers to seek alternative research practices while also allowing the STS research to serve as a reminder of the consequences of unethically conducting dangerous testing.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Vieques, Puerto Rico, Political Technologies, Kant's Categorical Imperative, Hypersonic, CubeSat
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