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Weapons Research and Development

  1. John Forge

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee287

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Forge, J. 2013. Weapons Research and Development. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The best-known example of weapons research and development (WRD) is the Manhattan Project, which produced the first three nuclear weapons and the only ones to have been used in wartime (see Nuclear Weapons). This project made use of discoveries in nuclear physics which were recent at the time, as well as other scientific theories and state-of-the-art experimental and computational techniques. However, if WRD is defined as a species of applied science (Arrigo 2000: 303), then it becomes a relatively recent endeavor and much else that should be included under the heading will be ruled out. For instance, Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 assault rifle, at about the same time as the Manhattan Project, without consciously applying any scientific theory. The AK-47 is sturdy, well-made, reliable, easy to operate and is the most widely used weapon since World War II – and was surely the product of WRD. For this reason, a definition of WRD such as the following is recommended: WRD is research and development aimed at the design of new weapons, improvements of existing weapons, or the design and improvement of ancillary and support structures (Forge 2008: 153). The latter includes weapons platforms, such as ships, and methods of command, control, and communication. Given this broad characterization, and provided that research is not defined too narrowly, WRD can be dated from at least the fourth century BCE, if not earlier, when there were systematic and codified attempts to make siege artillery (Rihill 2007). WRD in this general sense, as opposed to specific examples of WRD directed towards particular weapons such as weapons of mass destruction, is a neglected but nevertheless important topic in applied ethics. What, then, are the issues that need to be addressed from this general perspective?


  • ethics;
  • philosophy;
  • practical (applied) ethics