FRC and the Military Industrial Complex

Does your team accept money from a military contractor?
  • Yes
  • No

0 voters

Many FIRST teams are sponsored by military contractors. When I first joined, 449 was sponsored by BAE Systems. Representatives of the US military give speeches at competition relatively often. I thought nothing of it, as a kid.

In retrospect, it bothers me a lot, and I wish my team had at the very least discussed the reasoning and implications with us.

Does your team take money from military contractors? If so, is it a point of discussion? How do you feel about it?

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To oversimplify a nuanced issue (and a nuanced opinion) - I’m fine with accepting money to fund FIRST or my team specifically as a “good deed” from what some might consider a “bad company.”

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At least two engineering firms in our area which we’ve been sponsored by in the past/present have military customers, even though one of them makes most of its money from automakers. I suspect this might be the case for a lot of engineering companies that sponsor FIRST teams.

Why wouldn’t you accept money?

I believe most defense companies require someone to work at the company in order to receive any sort of contribution, though I may be wrong in some cases.

At the end of the day, beggars can’t be choosers. If you need funding and a defense company is willing to give you some, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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Seems like a moot question really. How many large corporations, be they information tech or manufacturing, do not have potential involvement in some aspect of our world that you might consider problematic? Military. Surveillance. Overseas working conditions.

Feel free to be selective. There are a few entities I’d be reluctant to be associated with. My list and yours may not be the same.

T. Wolter

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We have accepted money from BAE and the DoD.

Friendly reminder that there are no less than 6 military contractors that are FIRST strategic partners. My team accepts money from multiple military contractors (Lockheed, Ball, Raytheon, and others)

1 Like

Here’s my take on the whole thing. Do we honestly really need to politicalize every single thing in order to be in FIRST? More importantly, perhaps your team is in an area that is so full of companies (engineering/tech/or otherwise) that are willing to sponsor but I believed in majority of the teams’ case, that would be a pure fantasy and a dream. If BAE, Rockwell, Lockheed, Boeing, NASA, etc (even to a small local ship that might supply simple janitorial service to one of these big companies) are willing to sponsor our team, I would have no problem at all in taking their sponsorship. It’s very hard to get sponsorship when your team is located in a primary residential community with very little industrial/tech companies that are of sufficient size to be willing to be a sponsor.

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Practically speaking, regardless of how you may feel about the MIC, such a huge portion of FIRSTs funding on both the team and organizational level comes, either directly or indirectly, from the DoD budget that this is really just a fun hypothetical question. If FIRST turned down defense money, it wouldn’t exist.

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Basically this. One more dollar to an FRC team is one less dollar spent on weapons. Technically I work for a military subcontractor, but we work on what I would classify as post-apocalyptic sensors, so I feel the same about is as I do FRC teams taking money from the military.

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I don’t know how you separate FIRST from politics when it’s an organization that largely operates in the public school space and is funded with lots of public money. FIRST even has its own* conference where students can learn about and get experience lobbying! There’s been many a thread on this in the past, but FIRST is inherently political.

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We have in the past (not currently). It has not been a point of discussion so far, but I’m honestly not sure how students feel about it.

Personally, I’m totally fine with it. I have nothing against military contractors in general. I understand why some might. I have issues with specific companies (specifically labor practices), and we don’t use those companies, but I don’t have an issue with a specific type of company. I’m not a person who has an issue with the US Military or DoD.

I agreed but that political push is about getting more students into STEM (and education for STEM).

By my count, 20 of their Strategic Partners are military contractors and that’s not counting DoDSTEM itself.

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it’s also about glorification of overworking, and increasing the supply of stem educated people in order to reduce wages in the sector. And maintaining the status quo economic system.

As far as OP’s question, I’ve talked about it when students have asked. From their background my students inherently understand taking money from organizations or people they disagree with: they’ve never seen the economic freedom to reject a payment.

As far as OP’s implied background to the question: about a quarter of SunPowers profit in 2018 and 2019 was large scale solar+battery installation at military bases. Are we a military contractor I need to talk to my students about accepting money from?

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If you don’t want to take part in these conversations, you are free to continue with your day.

Ultimately who the money comes from and who gets the money (and why) are all important questions in FIRST for understanding several dimensions of the team experience. The MIC is part of that funding setup, and I think it’s a perfectly acceptable question and conversation to have online about “am I okay with this?” and “why?”

To come back to the OP’s question, the only time this was something was discussed, despite taking money from Lockheed for many years, was a couple of years ago when we took money from the Navy/a Navy recruiter, and they came in to recruit for their nuclear submarine program. That conversation was more about giving more context to that program based on some of the mentors’ experiences with acquaintances who went through that program, because frankly a recruiter is incentivized to skip some of the realities of that.

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Hot take: I’m would be okay with taking money from the military, because I know that while this might lead some more of my students to join, I am preparing them with the ethics and critical thinking skills to make the right choices and eventually change those organizations for the better.

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Are any of the 8% of respondents who indicate that their team does not accept money from a military contractor willing to share their sponsor list? I can certainly see very low-resource teams who only gain sponsorship from their school district/NASA/FIRST grants or foreign teams completely avoiding military contractors, but I’d be surprised to see many others.

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For context to my opinion, I live in Massachusetts. Raytheon has been a staple job provider for years in state, and sponsor(ed) many teams in the area for years. Just over the border to the north, BAE Systems sponsors a significant number of teams. My team has a direct DOD contact and one of our premiere sponsors is DODSTEM. My parents are both veterans, post-Vietnam era and early 90’s. There was a chance I would have been born in Manheim. Several alumni of my team have chosen to join the military in various degrees, and a couple have moved onto multi-billion dollar defense contractors for work.

It’s undeniable that modern technology has and always will have a dark benefactor in conflict. Personally, I applaud you if you choose to reject a sponsorship or donation from a source you don’t approve of on a moral ground, especially if you are not necessarily financially stable without them. It is a difficult choice.

1 Like

So, I think there’s a critical question missing from the OP.

@Oblarg only asked about money from military contractors and discussions about that.

My question is: Are any of your teams’ mentors employed by said military contractors? Do you feel the same way about the mentors as you do about the money? Why/why not?


See, my team has mentors/funding from at least four companies that are military contractors–and we’ve got mentors from all four. My company does some work for DoD so theoretically we’d be #5, though our work isn’t in the weapons line.

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