On the technological sovereignty of military capability elementsOn the technological sovereignty of military capability elements

Brigadier General Juraci Ferreira Galdino

Over time, science, technology, and innovation have become essential to a country’s economic growth, social development, and defense. In the current conjuncture, countries have come to be differentiated by their technological development capacity, supplanting the traditional ideological disputes of the Cold War period. In fact, by pushing the frontier of knowledge and generating disruptive technologies, the innovative countries assume a preponderant role in the political, economic, and military fields, establishing the rules of the international system and shaping the distribution of wealth.

With regard to the military expression of national power, the prominent nations seek to gain autonomy and technological sovereignty in their military capabilities, and to hinder the domination of critical and sensitive technologies by emerging countries. This game is understood as a natural manifestation of the sense of preservation of the status quo, and conditions the movement of pieces on the geopolitical chessboard. In this sense, technological fencing stands out, whose actions aim to deepen or at least maintain technological asymmetries.

Technological restraint is a relatively old practice that manifests itself in several ways. One of them occurs when, for example, government agencies do not authorize the purchase, sale or technological transfer operation. It also happens when startups or promising national companies are acquired or absorbed by large international companies, or when there is a brain drain from countries with late industrialization. It can also manifest itself when prominent nations exert political, economic or social pressure or even impose the use of force to achieve their geopolitical goals. Finally, denying access to technologies; elaborating lists of technologies and materials that are prohibited to export or re-export; introducing fiscal, customs, sanitary, environmental, or human rights barriers; and even executing military or intelligence operations to neutralize, hinder, or prevent the innovation capacity of peripheral countries are part of the vast list of customary technological restriction actions.

My experience, gained over more than 20 years of scientific research, research and development (R&D), and innovation management in the area of defense, suggests that the actions of curtailment assume more sophisticated forms and intensify as we advance in technological maturity. The preservation instinct reveals itself, exposing an exquisite arsenal, by adopting practices copiously reported by Ha-Joon Chang in the book “Kicking the ladder”. The technological restriction will only be supplanted through the progressive accumulation of knowledge in strategic areas and the appropriation of this knowledge by the productive sectors, relying on intensive investment by the state in research, development and long-term innovation activities.

However, the defense market is peculiar, so that even the success of these activities needs to be tempered with other essential ingredients to achieve the desired technological supremacy, achieved through the production and adoption of systems and products for military use by the Armed Forces of the host country of the innovations.

The defense field employs high-tech systems, materials, and weapons, which are expected to have very high reliability, even when used in hostile environments. Developing genuinely national military capabilities that combine sophisticated, innovative and reliable technologies is a huge challenge, requiring a number of factors, such as: high doctrinal competence; efficient long term planning; advanced maturity in the elaboration of operational and technical specifications; effective financial engineering in the sense of sustaining the constancy of resources over time; and the existence of a dynamic innovative environment, a condition that necessarily involves the availability of sophisticated research, development, testing and evaluation infrastructure, highly qualified human resources, and a flourishing defense industrial base. It is worth noting that few countries meet these conditions, and only the most developed ones conduct R&D of state-of-the-art military programs.

As it affects the sovereignty of nations, the negotiation of defense products and technologies is subject to interference by the governments of the countries involved. For this reason, international collaborations are ephemeral and superficial, and technological restriction actions occur without the controls of multilateral organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). The world market for defense technologies is naturally characterized by a high level of formal and informal restrictions.

These difficulties motivate emerging countries to adopt policies, strategies and actions aimed at obtaining technological autonomy in the area of defense, particularly when they stand out in the concert of nations for having isolated or combined high gross domestic product, large territory, large population, abundant natural resources, extensive borders and insertion in a troubled geopolitical space. Brazil congregates practically all these factors, and it is fundamental to obtain military capabilities by its own means, as discussed in “Machiavelli and the Importance of National Military Power”


It is important to add that the defense area involves the development of complex military systems, whose R&D cycles are long lasting and products have long term life cycles. When combined with the need for modernization of the Armed Forces, these characteristics discourage R&D activities and favor the practice of dumping by large world players, reinforcing the option for acquisition in the international market to the detriment of R&D in national territory.

Although the more developed countries defend free trade, paradoxically, they exercise the greatest controls with the aim of maintaining their supremacy of political power in the international system and the technology of their companies, as well as the technological dependence of the peripheral countries in the area of defense. However, these controls affect other sectors, through the surgical use of subterfuges such as the exploitation of the concept of technological duality, a concept attributed to technologies that can be used in both civilian applications and military systems.

For countries with late industrialization, duality is important to establish cooperation for technological development and to provide sustainability for companies working in the defense market. On the other hand, developed countries can use this duality as a means of curtailment. Alleging possible use in military artifacts, access to important technologies to gain innovations for the conventional market may be hindered. Thus, prominent countries seek to perpetuate their hegemony in the industrial field by hindering the progress of emerging countries in sectors such as navigation systems, satellites, tracking systems, technologies inherent in the nuclear fuel cycle, communications systems, detection and sensing systems, aeronautical systems, integrated circuits, and many others in which the military application is more evident.

In view of the facts mentioned, it is fundamental for Brazil, a country of continental dimensions and unequaled wealth, to invest in the development of critical technologies essential not only to obtain autonomously its military capabilities, but also for its scientific and technological development.


About the author

Brigadier General Juraci Ferreira Galdino Promoted to his current rank on 25 NOV 20. Born in Malta, Paraíba. Son of José Galdino Fernandes and Aureni de Freitas Fernandes. Graduated in Electronic Engineering (UFPB, 1991). Declared 1st Lt of QEM, in 1992. PhD in Electrical Engineering (UFCG, 2002).

He holds the Directing Courses for Military Engineers (ECEME, 2010) and the Advanced Studies in Politics and Strategy (ESG, 2017). Among others, he held the positions of Head of AGITEC and Head of CAEx. He is the Commander of IME, since 28 APR 21. He has about 130 scientific publications; he was a young researcher for the state of Rio de Janeiro and CNPq. He holds the Military Gold Medal, the Medal of the Peacemaker, the Medal of Military Judicial Merit and the Order of Military Merit in the Commendatory Degree.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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