Kyoto University professor Toyoaki Nishida had no qualms about accepting research subsidies from the U.S. military that supposedly came with no strings attached.

With the funding, the professor of information science was generally free to pursue research in technology that could lead to communication between humans and robots. In addition, he was urged to tackle difficult and ambitious topics.

According to an analysis by The Asahi Shimbun of U.S. government expenditures for a nine-year period from 2008, it appears that Nishida is not alone in Japanese academia.

There were at least 135 separate projects involving the payment of a total of 880 million yen ($7.8 million) by the U.S. military for research subsidies to universities, affiliated nonprofit organizations, academic associations and venture capital firms created out of universities.

The subsidies all went for basic research.

Satoru Ikeuchi, professor emeritus of astrophysics at Nagoya University and a co-leader of the Japanese Coalition Against Military Research in Academia, warned that there is an underlying concern for researchers.

"Although it will not cover all research results, those involved must realize some results could be utilized by the U.S. military," he said. "Japanese researchers would not be able to control any application of the results in actual weaponry."

The latest revelation comes as the Defense Ministry is preparing to vastly expand its own research subsidy program to universities.

The Science Council of Japan is now discussing whether to change past statements that have banned military research partly because of Japan's history of scientists cooperating in the war effort.

A decision is expected at the council's annual meeting scheduled for April.

Nishida, who formerly served as chairman of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, received an e-mail about three years ago from the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD), based in Tokyo's Roppongi district. The office is in charge of handling research subsidies for the U.S. Air Force.

Told that he was free to pursue whatever research interests he had, and also assured that the research results would become part of the public domain, Nishida decided he would not be involved in military research.

He received permission from his university department and between May 2014 and May 2016, he received a total of about 10 million yen.

He reported his findings at an international academic conference and published a paper. A report was also submitted to the U.S. Air Force.

One reason Nishida applied for the subsidy was a general lack of funding.

To maintain his laboratory, which has about 20 members, Nishida needs about 20 million yen annually. While the 4 million yen or so received from Kyoto University could be used freely, he needed outside funding to pay the salaries of research fellows.

Nishida also was attracted by the challenge to pursue a difficult topic. Research funds paid out by the Japanese government generally are more restrictive because there is an expectation that a result will be achieved.

According to AOARD officials, typically the research subsidies range between 2 million and 4 million yen a year for each project. The subsidy period is between one to three years.

The U.S. military also emphasizes basic research because while it may be years before results are produced, there is also the possibility that applications could extend over a wide range, including for military use.

For example, research on metamaterials conducted at Kyoto University has led to the development of what has been termed optical camouflage materials. That is now considered a possible key component of stealth technology for military applications.

Research in carbon fibers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology could lead to the development of fighter jets that are much faster and more fuel efficient.

Osaka University researchers are also developing "spintronics," which utilize the spin of electrons to develop new data processing technology that uses less electricity than circuits currently used in electronic appliances.

(This article was written by Hisatoshi Kabata and Keisuke Yamazaki.)