Engineers working in the Defence Industry

Group 12

Introduction and Background Information

The defence industry covers everything from land, sea and air capabilities to electronics and cyber security. For many decades, countries have required arms, military equipment, cutting-edge technology, and modern warfare to neutralize enemies, defend their national interests, protect their territorial sovereignty and provide employment in military and defence manufacturing sectors. The number of warfare machinery, arms, equipment, military spending and active personnel in service are often seen as the power and capability of their nation’s military on the global stage. 

The defence industry has evolved over the years into a trillion-dollar industry. Many private, government and partnership organisations are the key players in this industry. For centuries, the talented defence engineers have been the backbone of this industry. In the past, engineers have worked only to solve technical problems and have not considered ethics or other implications of their work.  In recent times, there have been several debates on the global defence industry. There has been strong criticism from an economic and humanitarian standpoint, and this has sparked many debates on the ethics of skilled engineers working in the defence industry. Modern wars have a greater power of destruction compared to previous wars due to the advancement in technology. Engineers work on the production and maintenance of current and future systems. 


The most obvious reason an engineer should work for a weapons manufacturer is as defence of the nation’s population and its allies. With no one working in the manufacture of arms and defence, a countries’ citizens could potentially be vulnerable to both external and internal threats, therefore possibly increasing the number of casualties worldwide. Similarly, it is untrue to state that all wars are inherently unethical and therefore in the case of an ethical war (such as world war two), an engineer working in the weapons industry would be doing an essential job for an ethical cause.

War has been prevalent throughout human history and could be strongly argued to be, for the most part, inevitable. During this time, the weapons industry has been at the forefront of driving innovation in engineering fields such as materials, processes and technologies. Technologies that were developed originally for combat/defence often later become extremely useful in the advancement of mankind, technologies such as jet engines, nuclear advancements, radar and satellites were all invented during wartime. With the philosophy that conflict between humans is an inevitable eventuality at some point, an engineer could be deemed as partially ethical working in the weapons industry under the belief that they would be developing tech that would be a benefit to many people in the future. Ultimately making the best of a bad position.

Along the same train of thought that conflict among humans will always exist, an engineer could ethically work in the weapons industry if they were actively working towards overall casualty reduction – be it civilians or combatants. This could be due to a higher degree of weapon precision (less collateral damage), use of non-lethal weapons or even engineering weapons so devastating that they act as a deterrent (e.g. nuclear weapons). All of these options could lead to less overall suffering.[1]


Throughout time, Governments have misused technology of their own agendas. Although some would argue that engineers are just doing their job by creating powerful information algorithms or the next -gen missiles but I would argue that we have a certain responsibility to know where and how the technology engineers build is being used and engineers should have a say otherwise how can you be an ethically responsible engineer. When doctors and nurses use their knowledge of the body in order to torture or conduct unauthorised medical experiments, we get outraged by this but how come this is not the case when it comes to Engineers?[2]

As engineers and scientists, a lot of our work needs the support and resources of the government in order to come to fruition. Thus, we are dependent on them in order to make a living and while we are hired for a project or sell our products to them, we do not have control of the project after its being made and do not for example, control the missile and as a result this means that the engineer is usually one remove from the consequences of their work or inventions. Although, this should not take away from the reality of what the engineer is actually building and the pain and suffering it can cause.[3]

To counter the argument that weapons of war are a deterrent and are often used in defence.  Studies have shown the opposite where the availability of weapons encourages armed conflict and often results in fear and the repression of societies and their peoples especially by governments which do not care about the ethics and only want to subjugate the population. If you break the concept of a weapon down it goes against everything engineering is founded upon. Engineering is a means of social good and progress, it is to use technology to help and improve people’s lives, not to take them.

Initial Decision

At this point, we stand for against.

2 thoughts on “Engineers working in the Defence Industry

  1. I feel the issue of should not engineers work in the defense industry be a question but rather should they be given freedom to develop as much as they can and push the boundaries of innovation or should there be a strict limit. For example a range of a missile can be extended but the equivalent TNT energy release should be capped to ensure the focus is more on effective prevention rather than sadistic destruction.

  2. This looks like a good topic. I understand what the dilemma is. Can you clearly state it though?
    Is the dilemma: Should engineers work in the defence industry? I think everyone can ‘tease’ that out of your opening statement, but that extra touch of clarity helps focus the issue for your readers.

    I like the heading ‘Positives’ – this looks like the ‘case for’. 😊

    Arguments for: Poor/no use of ethical theories. Focus on improving this for Assignment Two.
    You present a good case BUT you haven’t used any ethical theory to support your case. By its name the defence industry sets out to defend people, this has utilitarian support.
    Similarly, in the ‘Negatives’ section, you make a good case but there is no use of ethical theories to support your case. How about the Code of Conducts that many engineers promise to uphold? If you are working on a weapon of mass destruction how is that upholding the welfare of humanity?

    Advice for Assignment Two:
    This is a great topic, and there’s an excellent dilemma.
    Develop the ethical support for both sides of the dilemma. This is essential!

    There shouldn’t be a problem identifying the stakeholders but given the clear dilemma, identifying which of the Options for Action to use will be challenging.

    Try and drum up more comments. I’m perfectly OK with you striking deals – whereby you comment on other articles and they comment on yours.

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