The US military and arms dealers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to ‘educate’ Australians at our leading universities.
Students and community members protest at Sydney University in 2023 about the institution's contract with French defence company, Thales. Photo: Bipasha Chakraborty for Honi Soit

“It’s indoctrination. What they’re essentially doing is peddling the prospect of war. If you want to wage a war, you want to prepare the populace and educate them to say that war is a good thing and call it ‘defence’.”  
University academic specialising in war, diplomacy, and international relations.

The United States Defense Department has funded $394 million to Australian universities via grants and contracts since 2007, an exclusive investigation by Declassified Australia can reveal.

Using figures obtained through an extensive examination of official US government records for grants and contracts, and Freedom of Information applications in Australia, a startling picture had emerged of the increasing involvement of the US Department of Defense in providing funding to Australian universities.

Over a 17-year period, the US Defense funding to Australian universities has jumped from $1.7 million in 2007 to $60 million annually by 2022, the year after the AUKUS agreement’s surprise announcement. The funds are backing expanded research in fields of science that enhance US military development and the US national interest.

29 of Australia’s 41 universities (70%) have received funding from the US Defense Department.

Between 2007 and 2024, the University of New South Wales received the highest amount of funding, an extraordinary $72 million. 

The University of Queensland received the second-highest amount at $60.5 million and the University of Melbourne came in a close third with $60.4 million.

Australia’s premier Group of Eight Universities (Go8) received $202.1 million between them, being 79 percent of the total funding.

What is the money being used for?

In many of these arrangements, the US Defense Department provided funds to major defence companies which were then used to subcontract universities for defence and intelligence-related research. 

In 2022, one of the top weapons producers in the world, the US defence contractor Raytheon, funded the University of Sydney with $105,000 for ‘Basic Research’ in the Pentagon’s Quantum Benchmarking Program. 

Raytheon produces a multitude of weapons and components, from cruise missiles to surveillance sensors to missile defence systems. Raytheon is supplying weapons to Israel in the current bloody conflict in Gaza, as well as to Saudi Arabia, which has caused the deaths of many innocent civilians in Yemen since 2016.

Similarly, weapons manufacturer Boeing’s subsidiary, HRL Laboratories, a maker of microelectronics and lasers, has entered two subcontracts with the University of Technology Sydney totalling $747,115. This funding was also for “Basic Research” under the Pentagon’s Quantum Benchmarking Program. The first subcontract was entered into in 2022, with further funding provided in 2024.

According to the US Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), the Quantum Benchmarking Program “will estimate the long-term utility of quantum computers by creating new benchmarks that quantitatively measure progress towards specific, transformational computational challenges.”

Militarisation of Australian universities 

The increase in funding from the US Defense Department to Australian universities occurred alongside the Australian Federal Government’s claims to strengthen the country’s defence.

This upsurge began with the 2016 Defence White Paper under Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and continued with the AUKUS partnership announced by the Morrison government in 2021.

AUKUS has enjoyed bipartisan support, with the Albanese Labor government supporting the initiative while in opposition and adopting it once in power after May 2022.

The Turnbull government signalled greater funding to defence research in the 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement which flagged the establishment of the Defence Innovation Hub. According to the launch document, its aim was “to increase the level of engagement between businesses, universities and the research sector to commercialise ideas.”

In April 2023, the Albanese government put their own stamp on increased funding to defence research when it announced that the $3.4 billion Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) had replaced the Defence Innovation Hub. 

The Warfighter Unmanned Ground Vehicle by Cyborg Dynamics Engineering, EOS and BIA5, poses with Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy and Chief Defence Scientist Professor Tanya Monro at the announcement of the establishment of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator in 2023. Photo: Australian Department of Defence

Touted as “the most significant reshaping of defence innovation in decades”, ASCA says that it provides “opportunities for Australian industry and universities to partner with Defence (…) to explore emerging and disruptive technologies, and discover and nurture innovations that will address priority capability needs.”

According to a new Times Higher Education Summit outcomes report, universities are well placed to aid the government with “strategic messaging and building social license for AUKUS”.  Indeed, university representatives describe themselves as “enablers of operationalising the strategic intent around AUKUS”, or, in other words: building social license for AUKUS.

Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, Tanya Monro, who is responsible for overseeing and guiding the nation’s defence science research and development, stated in Washington in 2023:

“Our aim has been to align the work done in our universities and our industry. The bulk of our research and development happens in our universities, which gives us a tremendous opportunity to try to align that work to these bigger national missions”.

Monro revealed that the Albanese government’s new defence ‘accelerator’, ASCA, was modelled after and directly shaped by American intelligence agencies.

These US intelligence agencies have proliferated over recent decades and can be a bit of an alphabet soup.

“[ASCA has] quite a bit of [the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office] flavour, a lot of [US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and a sprinkling of [the US Defense Innovation Unit],“ she said.

Not a lethal weapon in sight as the University of Adelaide hosted a Defence Showcase recently, addressed by Chief Defence Scientist Tanya Monro. The university naturally promoted the event as ‘a half-day celebration of our brilliant research in defence, showcased alongside our government and industry partners’. (Photo: University of Adelaide)

“And I’d like to pay tribute to all my friends and colleagues in DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], SCO [the US Strategic Capabilities Office] and DIU [the US Defense Innovation Unit] for really having those rich conversations with us as we figured out how to make something like this work for Australia,” said Monro.

Americanisation of Australian universities 

ASCA draws from all three of these US Department of Defense agencies. ASCA works to partner with Australian universities with defence organisations , providing the opportunity for the US government and industry to funnel money into projects of interest. ASCA told Declassified Australia that it presently “does not receive any funding from any Department within the United States Government.”

DARPA, known for its innovations in national security, also has a history marked by contentious if not illegal projects, These include extensive surveillance programs and the development of lethal autonomous weapons, raising ethical and privacy concerns. Controversially, DARPA has funded research into how social media can influence social campaigners and activists.

SCO adapts existing defence systems to new uses by integrating them with advanced technologies. This includes an autonomous lethal drone swarm that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have duped as ‘the future weapon of mass destruction”.

DIU incorporates innovations into national security and military applications, by funding commercial ventures to make the new generation of military components and weaponry.

Another initiative similar to ASCA in accelerating Australian universities’ focus on defence is Security and Defence PLuS, an academic research and educational collaboration between three universities – Arizona State University, King’s College London, and the University of New South Wales. It aims to “advance the AUKUS agreement”.

The Security and Defence PLuS program has spurred the creation of programs such as “Cyber Security Fundamentals,” which addresses evolving cyber threats and best practices, and “Introduction to Naval Combat and Weapons Systems,” focusing on maritime warfare and technology, especially pertinent to Australia’s expanding naval capabilities​​. 

It is designed to develop AUKUS’s ‘disruptive maritime power projection’ and ‘strategy of denial’ to counter the claimed Chinese military build-up and assertions of sovereignty in the South China Sea. 

Doing the rounds of Washington think tanks, weapons corporations and the US State Department, Universities Australia goes to Washington. “We’ve already had close discussions with our government and AUKUS partner governments about how universities can help. We’re in Washington this week to turn those ideas into reality.” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson in Washington last year glad-handing Australian ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd. (Photo: X/Twitter @catrionajackso1)

The most recent university defence program announced is the Digital Disruption in Defence Research Consortium (D3RC)  which involves a partnership between the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and five universities in the United Kingdom and the United States to support the AUKUS alliance.

The D3RC is tasked with conducting commissions from government, which involve developing models of cyber influence, exploring new paradigms in defence decision-making, managing defence assets and platforms on a global scale, and innovating in designing resilient supply chains. They plan to intercommunicate with allied nations like the US and publish research quarterly. 

These fundamental changes to the funding and research base of many Australian universities warp the traditional pure research in order to feed the awesome appetite of the AUKUS industries. The changes have been described as provocative by some strategic thinkers, such as former prime minister Paul Keating, who describes AUKUS as a sign of Australia’s “commitment to the United States hegemony”.

The American model

Critics are raising concerns about the co-opting of universities to fulfil the government’s defence and national security interests.

Dr Binoy Kampmark is an academic at RMIT University who specialises in the institution of war, diplomacy and international relations.

“I find it deeply problematic that the education enterprise is becoming a military one,” Dr Kampmark told Declassified Australia

“The Australian model, until fairly recently, has been fairly separate and segregated from military activities. But now, with AUKUS, university management is essentially delighted because of the prospect of additional student places and additional degree programs specifically about submarine acquisition and nuclear technology.”

Kampmark explained that Washington is encouraging Australian universities to follow the American model, and they’re finding an open door. 

“The Americans are very familiar with the military-industrial complex and how universities are essentially a vital pillar of the defence establishment”, he said. “They’re trying to replicate that with the Australian model,” referring to research collaborations between universities, government, and defence contractors. 

“It’s indoctrination. What they’re essentially doing is peddling the prospect of war.

“If you want to wage a war, you want to prepare the populace and educate them to say that war is a good thing and call it ‘defence’.”  

According to an analyst who works within the Australian defence and national security sector who requested anonymity, ASCA mimics the American model, prioritising the aims of defence primes and government. Defence primes are large multinational defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. 

“The Americans have used this model for a long time in the US, but this is the first time they’re using it outside the US”, he says.  

The analyst emphasised the need to accommodate the interests of defence primes in designing ASCA.

“The defence primes run the show here.”

“They drive their agenda, and they can because they’re so big and powerful. You don’t want innovation to be stifled because it conflicts with what one of the big primes wants to do.”

How universities and their students are responding 

With rising enrolments and decreasing funding, Australian universities have increasingly turned to the private and corporate sectors for financing, a 2022 report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work revealed. University revenue from private sources reached record highs at 43% in 2019.

Federal funding for higher education declined by over 46% from 1995 to 2021.

In the UK, universities facing similar financial challenges have turned to defence companies for funding, raising ethical concerns over their involvement with companies that arm conflict zones, such as assisting Israel’s onslaught against Gaza.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, all with troubling records in conflict zones, are embedded in both the Australian and British university sectors, according to a recently released report by the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade. 

In response to these financial pressures and in the wake of the announcement of the AUKUS submarine agreement, Catriona Jackson, then CEO of Universities Australia, embarked on a significant trip to Washington in April last year. Her visit aimed to meet key stakeholders to discuss potential partnerships between universities and defence organisations

“Universities have a major role to play in developing the capability needed to deliver the project, including through the provision of skilled workers and world-class research and development,” Jackson said. 

Belinda Hutchinson, who holds dual roles as the University of Sydney’s Chancellor and the Board Chair of defence contractor Thales Australia, has been a key figure in driving the university’s pursuit of private funding. 

Her influence was instrumental in forging a contentious Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the University of Sydney and Thales. This MoU, signed in 2017 and renewed in December 2022, formalises a collaborative relationship for joint research in high-tech weaponry and military systems, offering educational opportunities and potential career pathways for students while drawing criticism over ethical implications and potential conflicts of interest.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence and Thales Australia Country Director and CEO Chris Jenkins sign the MOU agreement in 2017. Photo: The University of Sydney.

Thales Group, a French defence and technology multinational, generated over $38 billion in revenue in 2022. The company’s dealings have included supplying arms to regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have been implicated in human rights abuses, particularly in the conflict in Yemen.

One of Thales’ notable projects, a Turkish satellite venture, has sparked concerns regarding surveillance in Turkey. The project, involving the development and deployment of advanced satellite technology, raises red flags due to the potential misuse of such technology by the Turkish government for oppressive surveillance and monitoring activities. This concern is amplified in Turkey’s complex political landscape and history of clamping down on dissent and freedom of expression.

In 2022, Thales also faced scrutiny under a corruption probe related to a submarine deal with Malaysia in 2002. Allegations that Thales and DCN International offered kickbacks to secure a contract for the sale of three submarines to Malaysia in 2002 highlight the company’s lack of transparency and practice of co-opting war for profit.

Some students and activists in Australia have begun protesting against defence sector funding, including at ANU, the University of Adelaide, UTS and the University of Sydney.

Lilli Barto is a University of Sydney alumni engaged in protests against defence companies like Thales. 

“We’re seeing the instrumentalisation of education”, Barto told Declassified Australia. “The only purpose of education is to work in an engineering firm or a weapons company rather than educate yourself or address problems in your community. Especially in science and technology disciplines.” 

The submission of the Go8 Universities to the Defence Strategic Review in 2022 highlights the enthusiasm the universities have to “work much more closely together” with the defence industry and “allies in AUKUS, the 5-Eyes, and the QUAD”.

The submission stated that partnerships with the defence industry could lead to a “solution relevant to the industry partner; a highly qualified employee who is industry ready in an area of skills need; and deeper connections between industry (…) run at a modest cost split.”

Universities Australia (UA) echoed this sentiment in their Submission to the Defence Strategic Review in 2022. 

UA’s key goals included developing programs to train personnel specifically for the defence industry, increasing the number of partnerships with industry such as defence and arms companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and diversifying funding sources to support these initiatives. This approach reflects a broader strategy to deepen academic research and education integration with Australia’s defence sector. 

Their submission also emphasised the “rapidly evolving threats in the Indo Pacific”, highlighting growing tensions with China. 

The NSW government and the ACT, Victoria, and Queensland have all banned weapons companies as primary and high school education sponsors. 

Other industries banned from sponsoring schools in those states include tobacco, alcohol and gambling products. While the primary and secondary education systems have flagged the defence industry as comparable to tobacco, alcohol and gambling, the tertiary system has yet to do the same.

Lack of transparency around this issue

The research collaborations between universities, government and defence contractors are often secretive, with the nature of the projects and amounts of funding remaining undisclosed.

Throughout this 14-month investigation, we encountered significant barriers to accessing information. Time and time again, our multiple FOI [Freedom of Information] requests were delayed for months and eventually refused. 

“The universities don’t have to explain the distribution of funds, they don’t have to reveal the source of the funds, and they don’t have to disclose the nature of the funding trail between the private corporations and the university, and that’s really disturbing,” said Dr Kampmark.

“Not only can you mobilise the university sector and co-opt it for the defence sector, but you also can be reassured about the system’s total opacity, its total lack of transparency and accountability, which means this information will never see the light of day.”

“People are afraid to speak up, so it’s a brilliant environment to park sensitive military projects in, when you think about it,” he said.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge expressed concerns for Australia’s growing sub-imperial defence relationship with the US and defence companies. 

“One of the few ways universities can get additional R & D funding is if they make it relevant to the arms industry…It’s all secret,” Shoebridge told Declassified Australia

How does this affect university education? 

The confluence of universities and the defence industry raises serious questions about the future of academic freedom.

“Can we still see universities as places to learn and produce knowledge that, at the risk of sounding naïve, is for the greater good of humanity, independently of transient geopolitical skirmishes?” asked Professor Wanning Sun from the University of Technology, Sydney in a recent Crikey op-ed about the impact of AUKUS on universities.

“The history of universities during the first Cold War era tells us that it is precisely at times such as this that our government and our universities need to fight tooth and nail to preserve the precarious civil society that has taken millennia to construct.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This extensive investigation, started in February 2023, was part of a mentorship program between Declassified Australia and these journalism students at the University of Technology in Sydney. A key aim of Declassified Australia is to assist in developing the next generation of investigative journalists.

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Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran is a paralegal at Marque Lawyers. She has previously written for Michael West Media and The Guardian. She tweets from @sstephanietrann View all posts by and

Eve Cogan

Eve Cogan is a journalist and multimedia producer based in Sydney, Australia. She works at ABC News Channel and freelances with a focus on science and technology. Eve has previously worked with the School of New York Times, The Conversation and The Sunday Telegraph. Find out more at or @EveCogan View all posts by and