Challenging the myths of defense R&D benefits

As an aerospace engineer with 27 years' experience in government-funded work, I challenge the myth that defense research and development produces beneficial spinoffs for the civilian sector [``What civilian spinoffs does US wring from guns budget?'' April 29]. The klystron microwave tube was invented in the '30s to drive a linear accelerator for high-energy physics research. At about the same time, AT&T began studies on transcontinental microwave links for long-distance telephone. Both developments were interrupted by World War II, and had the war not occurred, we would probably have had radar and microwave ovens just the same.

Moving beyond aerospace and electronics to medicine, energy, ground transportation, agriculture, print media, and education, areas of prime importance to society, contributions from the military have been nil. In one area, industrial production, the effect of the military has been devastating. Defense industry management and production techniques have ruined the productivity of US industry, and as a result machine tools, industrial robots, cameras, electronics, and automobiles are imported instead of produced here.

The problems of deprivation and oppression in the world need no technical breakthroughs for their solution. Rather, they need a breakthrough in international relationships. We need R&D on how to end war, not on how to wage it more efficiently. The spinoff from that research would provide more benefit than all the military R&D from now till the end of civilization. William H. Cutler Palo Alto, Calif.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.