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UK Demands Sourcecode for Strike Fighters 800

An anonymous reader writes ""The UK has warned America that it will cancel its £12bn order for the Joint Strike Fighter if the US does not hand over full access to the computer software code that controls the jets" Lord Drayson, minister for defense procurement, told the The Daily Telegraph that the planes were useless without control of the software as they could effectively be "switched off" by the Americans without warning."
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UK Demands Sourcecode for Strike Fighters

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  • Is that for real? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by those.numbers ( 960432 ) * on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:23AM (#14930519)
    Well, that's completely reasonable (note the sarcasm). It's insane to believe that we're even trying to withhold the code. I mean, would you buy a tv from a neighbor if they kept the remote? Chances are they'd hit the mute halfway through a Farscape rerun.
    • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:38AM (#14930571)
      You can use them against anyone but us. And uh, anyone else we don't want you dicking with.

      This is a good reason not to offshore defense technology.
      • Re:Is that for real? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:00AM (#14930671)
        It is for real. Unfortunately, the current administration seems to feel that it does not have to abide by its agreements in letter or in spirit. It's kind of the Darth Vader thing: "I'm altering our deal ... pray I do not alter it further."

        This arguement with the UK has been stewing for sometime, and I think the UK is right to pull out. Canada is the only country with an ITAR waiver at present -- to the best of my knowledge. Since you can't *give* the Canadians weapons, it is a largely meaningless agreement in their case. And the Bush administration probably wouldn't give the software to the Canadians either (although they might hire them to help write it).
      • by PC-PHIX ( 888080 ) * <> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @09:09AM (#14931999) Homepage
        So let's assume that the US does cough up the source code rather than risk losing the sale.

        Just like if I gave you the code behind my website or program so that you could have peace of mind and/or integrate other systems with mine.
        Check it, recompile it and compare it... Satisfied? Good. Sale goes ahead.

        Sure, it does everything that it is supposed to according the owner's manual...

        .....It also has several undocumented features that allow me backdoor access, remote control and /or streaming statistics, GPS co-ordinates. You get the idea.

        The key here is trust. Can they trust the US to document the complete inner workings of the aircraft they are buying? Maybe.

        If it is a matter of national security, should you be buying your weaponary and vehicles from another country as opposed to developing everything domestically? The answer of course is yes - if you want to share in a good concept and for your defences to be as good as theirs.

        But unless they can be absolutely sure the source code provided is complete or unless they plan to recompile the known code that they can trust and overwrite the current version installed on every piece of equipment, they are going to end up having to trust them (the US) just as much as if the source code isn't given up to begin with.

        This is one of the ultimate privileges and power of being the creator or programmer of a piece of technology. Lawsuits for contradicting a disclosure agreement of some sort are nothing against what that control is worth.

        If you can't live with that, then I agree, "This is a good reason not to offshore defense technology.".

    • Re:Is that for real? (Score:5, Informative)

      by w42w42 ( 538630 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:38AM (#14930574)

      The best explanation I've read is that they cannot adapt their weapons for use on the JSF w/o Lockheed/US Govt help. It has nothing to do with the US being able to *turn off* their JSF's.

      I've also read that the French giving the Brits more than they were asking for with the design of their new carriers notes a possible side deal, that being them buying French Rafale's. If this is the case, the JSF issue has already been decided, and what we're seeing here is simply public posturing. Never seen a politician do that before :-)

      • by modecx ( 130548 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:48AM (#14931053)
        If that's the deal, this ordeal has got to be mostly bullshit. All US/Europe/Japan fighters use NATO armaments, and it's my understanding that most every US armament that's designed to be carried by a fighter should also be compatible with any NATO fighter that has the avionics to support it, be they Gripens, Rafales, Eurofighters, Mirages, whatever. JDAMs, AMRAAMs, and AIM-9 missiles were all developed with NATO cooperation, it would be surprising to me if each weapon was built to support only one aircraft. And then in another way it wouldn't be very surprising to me, what with all the polotics.

        The UK is an ally--since they're bringing so much money to our (remarkably depressive) economy, we should give them the code for any auditing or modifications they wish to undertake, AND we should help them solve any problems they perceive with the deployment of these aircraft, and just be done with it.
        • Re:Is that for real? (Score:5, Informative)

          by eericson ( 103272 ) <harlequin.earthlink@net> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:59AM (#14931266) Homepage
 had a pretty good article on the situation with the UK involvement on the JSF B variant and how it ties into their carrier project. The real driving force behind the Rafael deal is the French military. The short version is that since Dassault hasn't been able to find any export customers for the Rafael, the incremental cost has been driven up. As such, they want to find another customer in order to keep the production lines open longer. (Plus it means additional commonality between their carriers)

          I don't see the RAAF or Royal Navy choosing the Rafael, it's half a generation behind the JSF and it also means having to add catapult and arrestor gear to their next gen flatop.
        • Re:Is that for real? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Mutatis Mutandis ( 921530 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @08:07AM (#14931777)

          Weapons are by no means that standardized. Britain, France, Germany and some other NATO countries still develop their own missiles, and also various electronic and intelligence-gathering equipment, which is equally important.

          The USA doesn't really like NATO weapons programs unless it can supply the weapons itself; its attitude is fundamentally protectionist and contains a lot of "NIH" syndrome. It has, for example, pulled out of the development of the ASRAAM missile and substituted its own AIM-9X.

          For the UK, not having the source code might not only mean that it cannot integrate its own weapons, but also that it cannot sell its products to other JSF users. For example, ASRAAM has been sold to Australia for use on the F-18E. If JSF is a closed system, the USA could lock out any such competition and force buyers to purchase everything from US suppliers.

          If that sounds paranoid... US officials have occasionally admitted that one of the goals of the JSF programme, at least it multinational aspect, is to drive other suppliers of combat aircraft out of business and ensure for the USA a monopoly on the supply of advanced defence equipment.

          Of course one of the other reasons is to make foreigners pay some of the bills for US weapons development. The system is charming: participating nations have to pay a large fee upfront for allowing their industry to compete for JSF contracts. Then they are sold downrated equipment that is not as capable as the F-35 as operated by the USAF, USN and USMC (if it ever gets that far). One of the reasons the UK wants the source code, I assume, is that it wants to ensure that its aircraft will not be downgraded too much. (Nobody would take Washington's word for it... not any more.)

          For the UK, JSF will be a bad deal. If the two planned RN large carriers are indeed completed, there is no real reason left to buy the F-35, and the British government may indeed be looking for a way to cancel its commitment to JSF.

    • by Stephen Samuel ( 106962 ) <samuel@b c g r e e n . com> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:59AM (#14930665) Homepage Journal
      I'd say it's more like buying a car from your neighbour, and his crackhead son gets to keep the alarm control that runs a kill switch for the motor and can pop the locks on demand.

      I mean, it's not like there's any real proof he'll use it (besides, he's in rehab right now and he's got a crush on your daughter), but....

    • Of course, if the USA Military didn't have the idea before this, they do now.

      "OK, Kahn. Here it comes....."

    • by drgonzo59 ( 747139 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:34AM (#14930828)
      Or, would I buy something as critical as an operating system without having access to its source code...oh...wait, nevermind.
    • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:35AM (#14930835) Homepage
      The current dispute between London and Washington is similar to the dispute that arose between Washington and Japan over the development of Japan's first indigenous fighter, the F-2, in the 1980s []. At the time, Washington adamantly objected to the idea of Tokyo developing its own fighter aircraft without participation from American defense companies. Following years of exaggerated fears of Japanese hi-tech domination, Washington feared that this new fighter would be superior to anything that American companies could develop. So, Washington wanted access to the development program. Tokyo relented, and Washington basically forced Tokyo to use an existing American fighter as the basis of the development program.

      Once the agreement for joint American-Japanese development was reached, Washington had a change of heart. It refused to give, to Tokyo, the source code for the fly-by-wire computer program that controls the flight of the F-16.

      The following summarized the American hypocrisy in 1985.

      1. Washington did not want Tokyo to develop its own, possibly superior, weapons system.

      2. Once Tokyo agreed to work with the Americans on the weapons system, Washington wanted to ensure that Tokyo would not have access to critical technologies: e.g. fly-by-wire computer algorithms.

      That attitude from the 1985 is alive and well in 2006 -- in the form of the current dispute between Washington and London. Washington seems to want its allies to be permanently dependent on American weapons technology.

      What kind of BS is that?

      Both London and Tokyo should ignore Washington's hypocritical position and should promptly lock Washington out of English and Japanese fighter-aircraft development. Once Washington sees that both the English and the Japanese can develop fighter aircraft that is actually superior to American jet fighters, then Washington will treat London and Tokyo as allies on equal footing.

      Right now, Tokyo is deliberating on the fighter to replace its aging F-4 Phantoms. Hopefully, Tokyo will not succumb to American pressure and will design a 100% all-Japanese interceptor.

      • by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:24AM (#14930993) Homepage Journal
        Following years of exaggerated fears of Japanese hi-tech domination, Washington feared that this new fighter would be superior to anything that American companies could develop.

        The history of the US doing this goes even further back than the 1980's. Well, at least as my grandfather told the story.

        My maternal grandfather was a mechanic on the Avro Arrow [] project here in Canada, which, as the Wiki article quotes, was "...the biggest, most powerful, most expensive and potentially the fastest fighter that the world has yet seen...".

        Now my grandfather was a consumate story teller, and certainly told his share which held dubious claims, but he had also done a number of remarkable things in his lifetime, and was long a very close follower of politics, so it was sometimes hard to differentiate between what was true, and what was just a good story.

        Still, the way he told the tale, a major reason why Canada cancelled the Arrow program was due to pressure from the US, which didn't like the fact that Canada had developed a significantly more technologically advanced interceptor than the US contractors were able to develop. According to him, it was direct pressure on Ottawa from Washington to kill the project and instead buy a huge number of BOMARC missles from the US that brought on the end of the Arrrow programme.

        Looking at the Wiki article, he may not have been that far off. The BOMARCs were purchased as soon as the Arrow programme was cancelled, and the US did pressure Ottawa to cancel the programme (although perhaps not for the reason Grampa cited). The engineering talent from Avro was quickly poached off by the US Government for the US space programme. Most experts believe that this single act set Canada's long advanced aerospace industry back by decades (during WWII, for example, it was a Canadian company that started making planes with standardized parts, so they could easily be interchanged).

        Sadly, the BOMARCs were eventually phased out because they were expensive and completely ineffective. The Arrow could have been re-purposed, or even re-designed, but even this was not to be -- for reasons never explained, all of the plans for the Arrow were destroyed, alone with all of the working prototypes. The Canadian Government poured all of that money into the Arrow, and didn't even bother to store the blueprints for future use or defense research.

        Whether it was my grandfathers "keep Canada down" conspiracy theory, the "interceptors aren't useful in the age of nuclear missles" official line, or a combination of the two, the end result has been the same: the BOMARCs sit in a warehouse in North Bay (last I heard at least...", the great bulk of which were copletely faulty and worthless, and we lost a symbol of national pride, and perhaps worst of all, lost some of the greatest brains behind our aerospace industry of the 1950's that put us at the forefront of aerospace research.

        As an interesting aside, some years ago my grandfather showed me the some of tthe specially designed tools that were created to work on the Avro Arrow which he kept in his garage. He passed away nearly 5 years ago, and I have never been able to find out what happened to those tools (and am not sure if I could identify them anyhow -- the one I remember looked like a long piece of metal rod with a hook on the end, which could be easily confused with any number of metal rods he had in his workshop). If they could be identified and separated from the rest of his old tools and bits and pieces from over the years, they probably belong in a museum somewhere (heck, so far as I know, the rods he told me were "tools" could very well have been "parts", such as control rods of one sort or another).


        • Similarly, the TSR-2 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MROD ( 101561 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:43AM (#14931228) Homepage
          In the 1960's pressure from the US caused the cancellation of the british TSR-2 programme. The government cancelled the TSR-2 and ordered F-111's.. which were then cancelled a few years down the line. A total fiasco.

          Similarly, all the plans and prototypes for the TSR-2 were destroyed.
          • by Mutatis Mutandis ( 921530 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @07:36AM (#14931686)

            This was at a time when the development programmes for advanced combat aircraft (and other military equipment) were successfully expanding into truly phenomenal cost overruns. The TSR-2 development cost estimates first doubled, and then tripled. The F-111 was so attractive to the UK government because its estimated unit price was about half of that of a TSR.2.

            Of course, the UK had no monopoly on cost overruns, and McNamara's pet project went through the financial roof as well. The F-111 became even more expensive than the TSR.2 would have been. The TFX project that produced the F-111 tried to be all things to all people, actually rather similar to today's JSF project, and predictably it failed to do that. (You can easily guess my opinion of the JSF project.) The F-111B version for the US Navy was cancelled outright.

            Besides, both the TSR.2 and TFX projects were arguably too far ahead of their time. The F-111 did not become a really effective combat aircraft before its first generation of pilots had retired, and its fragile 1960s electronic systems replaced by more modern and reliable ones. There is every reason to assume that TSR.2 would have suffered from the same problem.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:45AM (#14931233)
          Maybe we should harken back to the mid 1940's when the British were developing a jet engined plane to exceed Mach 1... Washington suggested a joint venture, and Britain agreed. Once Britain had sent them all their research and plans Washington decided it'd didn't want to do a joint venture anymore, but thanks for doing all the research. Then followed by chuck yeager breaking the sound barrier in a plane that looked strangely like the British one.
          • by CountBrass ( 590228 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @05:58AM (#14931424)
            The US did something similar with atomic research: took all the work the UK had been doing on the understanding they would share the result (the A-bomb) and then refused to.

            What constantly amazes me is. given the way the US constantly screws its allies is that a) it still has any and b) the UK still has the fantasy that we have a "special relationship" with the US: the only special relationship we have is the one where we bend over and drop our trousers on demand.

            • by nickos ( 91443 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @09:33AM (#14932158)
              "there is only one special relationship in Washington, and that is with Israel" - one of Blair's advisers as quoted in "The Accidental American" []
            • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @10:09AM (#14932415) Homepage
              What constantly amazes me is. given the way the US constantly screws its allies is that a) it still has any and b) the UK still has the fantasy that we have a "special relationship"

              and people wonder why people and other countries hate us to the point that when i travel abroad I wear a "I Love Toronto" and other Look he's canadian eh? clothing. Hell being from michigan I sound like a kanuk already. Now if a friend can get me that fake Canadian drivers license that I can keep in my wallet when overseas I will feel better.

              Americans are hated because we heppily allow our government to screw everyone else on the planet for our own gains.

              The only real allies we have anymore are there for 2 reasons. A) they are as corrupt as ourselves and want in on a piece of the action. B) My government has threatened them in one way or another than they do not dare change their relationship status.
      • by Venik ( 915777 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:55AM (#14931255)
        I fail to see any similarity between the F-2 dispute with Japan and today's siatuation with the F-35. Brits and the US have been involved in numerous joint aerospace projects for many decades. One of the results of such joint work was the most successful VSTOL fighter to date.

        Regardless of why the UK wants source code for the F-35 - be it the fear of backdoors or weapons integration tasks - for the amount they invested in this project the Brits are entitled to get the complete package.

        Without Britain's participation and without its 135-unit order the price of the F-35 will skyrocket. The UK is the only Tier 1 partner on this project. Withdrawal of the UK from F-35 development and procurement will delay the project and would likely scare away the remaining smaller partners, like Norway, which is seriously considering pulling out of the JSF consortium.

        Most importantly, however, should the UK go through with its threat to drop F-35, the plane's export prospects will be destroyed. The F-35 will become another limited-edition fifth-generation fighter a la F-22.

        I find it hard to believe that the US reluctance to share the source code with the Brits is solely due to export control concerns. There has to be more to it than just red tape.
      • It has been a while since anybody other than the USA had the top fighter plane. You claim that either Britain or Japan has the ability to build a twin-engine fighter superior to the F-22 or a single-engine fighter superior to the F-35; I think you're wrong.

        Current American fighters have had decades of research put in them. It cannot be denied that the American aeronautical industry is years ahead of Japan's. The Japanese do not have the ability to design and build a rival to the American planes, nor would t
        • by Runefox ( 905204 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @08:16AM (#14931804) Homepage
          There already is, or at least, was, a superior fighter to the Raptor and JSF, developed by Russia ten years ago, but probably never to see the light of day. It's called the Su-37 Flanker, and it outperforms the F/A-22 in every aspect but stealth.

          A modified Su-35, it has no angle of attack limitation, and its thrust-vectoring nozzles, in addition to its unstable integral triplane layout, allow it to perform maneuvers that allow the aircraft to, for a moment, literally fly backwards in controlled flight, and can outmaneuver any Western fighter, including the projected/declassified performance ratings of the F/A-22, in close range combat, as seen in the Farnborough air show in 1996. It has a forward pulse-doppler array radar and rearward-facing radar as well, and as such can target and fire upon targets at its six o'clock with rearward-facing missiles. It also has advanced infrared sensors that can most likely target and track an F/A-22 in supersonic flight (since it would light up like a christmas tree to IR due to air friction).

          So while the USAF stresses BVR combat, and do it well (though most situations don't allow BVR engagements, especially without AWACS), the Russian design bureaus favour supermaneuverability, and do it well. Besides, if the USAF really thought that BVR combat was all that was required to survive in the air, why would they equip their F/A-22 with a cannon, short-range missiles, and thrust-vectoring nozzles? The long and short of it is, close-range air engagements are far from history. The USAF knows it, and so do the Russians. While the Russians are allies, they provide exports to countries that could oppose the USA, and therefore this kind of technology should not be taken lightly, even if it isn't out there yet.

          After all, the thought that technology and technological superiority could win air wars was what almost decimated the US Navy fighters in the Vietnam war, where their F-4 Phantoms didn't have internal guns - But rather relied on missiles, which are limited in supply and have a good chance of missing. Rules of engagement also required visual confirmation before firing, and the Phantoms were almost completely slaughtered by the North Vietnamese MiG's and their cannons, only finding reprieve when gun pods were fitted to their aircraft.

          Anyway, fortunately for the F/A-22, it's not looking like Su-37's will be along any time soon, unless an export market opens up. Even so, I wouldn't call the F/A-22 or F-35 infallible, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't take global collaboration or a decade of research to top it. The F/A-22 is already a dinosaur of an aircraft, having been in development since 1986. It's not the glorious alpha-and-omega of the aircraft world, and it has its share of problems, not the least of which is payload limitations due to the concept of carrying only internal stores (external stores would allow the aircraft to be detected on radar). And if any 'opfor' nation were to build an analog of the Jindalee Over the Horizon radar system, conceiveably every US stealth aircraft would be rendered useless.
          • by tmortn ( 630092 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @10:20AM (#14932534) Homepage
            Very good points. The Russian Mig and Sukoi designs are very very capable fighters. In fact one on one they may well be the best figters in the world. Heck with the 37. The Mig-29 and Su-27 were both capable of the full range of acrobatics you describ in the 37 they just did not have the directional thrust ability or tri-plane config.

            But when you start talking one on one there are many capable fighters in the world and I would argue the US designs hold no particular advantage and in fact with all designs except the F-16 probably hold a general disadvantage. The Euro Fighter and Rafale are both highly capable designs and the top level Mig and Su designs are as well. Proper training is the key then. Stick comparable trained fighters in those planes and they will have an odds on chance of winning a one on one engagement with anything. The next key then becomes the overall air power system. And that is where US dominance lays. The US supremacy is almost entirely wrapped up in our air control system as a whole. Nobody else does cordinated air power as well as we do. AWACS is the heart of it and why BVR today is not what BVR was in Vietnam. Pilot training comes next and last comes the technology.

            The F-22 and JSF designs are not particularly impressive performers in terms of one on one dogfighting, they are adequate and thrust vectoring does a great deal to overcome their bulk that has arisen from internal warloads and stealth aerodynamic dictates. JSF in dogfight trim might be able to out turn an F-16 but only with directional thrust. Retrofit a similar capacity to the F-16 (which has been done and would be much cheaper) and its much more manouverable than the final JSF design. The advantage of the new US designs relies entirely on the stealth aspect. IE highly visible but un-reachable active search radar in AWACS vectors the US planes around in such a way that they can deal with threats before they know they are there.... not just BVR. Actual chase into ideal 6 o clock firing position to visually id an enemey before they even know they are there and then have control of any resulting engagement before it even begins for the other pilot.

            If someone neutralizes stealth then the US designs are in a heap of shit in a matchup against a comperable air power. But then.... who is comperable any more? About the only time any single nation could claim higher capable numbers any more would be when just facing our naval assets. If we have access to forward deployment of air force assets then we are kind of head and shoulders above anyone other than a full NATO turnout or China. Russia fields only a shadow of its former strength.

            AWACS, super cruising, AMRAAM, decent air combat manouevering capacity and highly trained pilots is a pretty devestating combination if all the pieces of that puzzle are there. The weakness of the US system lies in the fact we probably could not currently sustain a major air war level of munitions expenditure for very long and if someone could force us off our game plan... IE contest control of the skies (AWACS deployment) then we would be hurting in an old school scrap for control of the sky. The current thought is that with the next gen design if we got reduced to that then stealth would proove an advantage in dogfighting.

            In other words, the US designs are all about winning the fight before you even get in knife range and even when they reach that stage they are far from uncapable. That is just not their top design priority. If they are right about that advantage then the designs are everything they have said they are. But to date there has not been a real test of it. Knocking down the excuse of an Air Force that Iraq had in Gulf War I dosn't really count and thats about as close as we have come to a modern air combat war (and that was before any of the designs were in production). Yes they had numbers, but they had shit for training and almost zero air born radar capacity. We knocked down their command and control system in the first wave and at that point the Iraq air f
    • Re:Is that for real? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NecroPuppy ( 222648 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:19AM (#14931149) Homepage
      It may in fact be reasonable.

      When a military branch funds any program, especially an ACAT I, ACAT II, or ACAT IA program, it has to decide what data rights it needs.

      The data rights it is allowed by law to purchase depends, in large part, on how the program was funded.

      For Unlimited Rights, the government must have funded the entire development effort of the item, and then they can do whatever they want with it, including give it to other contributing nations.

      Under Limited Rights, where the contractor has funded the effort entirely, the Government is prohibited from sharing the information with anyone outside the US Government.

      With Restricted Rights, which are similar to Limited Rights, the software may have even further restrictions, such as a limited number of systems it may be installed on.

      And finally, there is Government Purpose Rights, which happens when the contracted firm and the Government have jointed funded the development of a program. Under this data rights type, the Government is allowed to use the technical data for Government purposes as described in limited rights and for other purposes such as competition, but not for commercial applications. Government purpose rights are automatically effective for five years and revert to Unlimited Rights upon expiration of the five-year period.

      There have been multiple programs where the wrong type of rights were purchased, sometimes because the contract was written badly, sometimes because there were mistakes made about what rights were needed.

      This article doesn't go into that kind of depth, so it may be a case where the lead contracting authority (Again, the article doesn't go into who that is. It could be the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines) messed up, or it could be JITC issue.

      Yes, I work for the government these days. Can't you tell?
  • by narkotix ( 576944 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:24AM (#14930521)
    linky []
    • If the USians are going to play this type of game, maybe we should buy from the Russians instead?

      Australia bought French at least once (Mirage III) and the last two times we bought US (F111 and F18) we got totally done over. I don't know why we keep going back.
      • the last two times we bought US (F111 and F18) we got totally done over. I don't know why we keep going back.

        Probably part of the FTA. Wouldn't surprise me.
      • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:59AM (#14930664)
        I don't know why we keep going back.

        Probably because the US has an aggressive R&D program that routinely produces superior combat aircraft systems. In the case of Australia specifically, they also get access (being old steady allies) to really fancy avionics and electronics packages which have no peer in the world of weaponry. The airframes and powerplants are extremely good too.

        The airframe and powerplant is only modestly important in modern combat aircraft, though the US is very good at this type of design. The real selling point to countries like Australia is that they get more advanced versions of the software, electronics, and sensors -- the parts responsible for lethality and survivability to a very large extent -- which are one of the real strengths of US military R&D. The US will sell stripped down fighter jets to just about anyone, but they are very selective about the avionics as that is where the real capability lies in modern combat aviation. JSF is being sold with some very slick capabilities built-in; not quite F-22 level, but pretty close in many respects. Nobody else is selling anything comparable, and the closest competitor is the Eurofighter.

        Australia buys US aircraft because the US is willing to sell it very advanced avionics and electronics for those aircraft. The US has no competitor at the very high-end of the quality/effectiveness market, which for military purposes is pretty important, particularly if you are a non-populous country like Australia that cannot rely on quantity to make up the difference.

        • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:56AM (#14930909) Journal
          The US has no competitor at the very high-end of the quality/effectiveness market,
          Ummm... the Ruskies?

          I'm sure they'll get around to developing a stealthy aircraft one of these days. And when they do, it'll be able to land on a dirt strip w/gear up not destroy itself.

          The F-35 just got downrated in it's stealth capabilities [] & now countries (UK, Aussies and others) are saying "WTF, why should we buy that when it can't even compete with the Sukhoi Flankers.

          Here's the article I read a few days ago [] It's on the end of page 1 & beginning of page 2 that they explain why exactly the JSF is going to suck.

          The airframe and powerplant is only modestly important in modern combat aircraft, though the US is very good at this type of design.
          Actually, everyone and their cousin is worried about the sole engine design for the new F-22 and F-35. The military types think it'd be a disaster if Pratt & Whitney is the only company that sells a suitable engine. GE & Rolls Royce have a joint program to design an alternate turbojet and they're lobbying hard to maintain their funding.

          So, I'm sorry to directly contradict you, but the powerplant is absolutely critical. So critical, that the DoD is willing to pump billions into making sure there is a completely separate engine design that can be used. Not to mention that if you read the linked articles above, the F35 got downrated because the airframe design is less stealthy when you're looking up the exhaust.
          • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:23AM (#14930989)
            The F-35 just got downrated in it's stealth capabilities [] & now countries (UK, Aussies and others) are saying "WTF, why should we buy that when it can't even compete with the Sukhoi Flankers.

            The F-35 was designed from inception as an exportable combat aircraft. It is the replacement for the F16/F18, does not have all the features and capabilities of the F-22, and is intended to be "strippable". On the other hand, it is a lot cheaper than the F-22. It can properly be placed somewhere in between Cold War era combat jets (F14/F15/F16/F18) and the current state-of-the-art (F22).

            As for the Russians, they can produce good airframes and decent powerplants, but they lack sophistication in the high-end electronics/software/sensors that pretty much make or break a combat aircraft today. The Russians are not producing anything better than western Europe these days, and are slipping further behind because they cannot afford to spend the kind of money required to keep up. A Sukhoi Flanker would be dead right around the time it even knew it was being engaged. The only comparable jet to the F-35 is the Eurofighter platform, though the capability mix is different.

            While I understand why the F-35 was developed, it is kind of an ugly and unremarkable jet. It is still very capable, particularly with the smashing avionics/software the US can put in the thing, but was never designed to be the "ultimate" anything. Of course, the F16 has a similar history but turned out to be an extremely successful combat aircraft.

            • by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:57AM (#14931090)
              I wouldn't be so quick to say the russians are not producing good product, one example is the slotback radar in the Mig 29 - it is easily as good as anything built in recent times by any other country. (I'm an ex ELINT weenie so I can speak with some knowledge on the subject)

              The Russians are as good as anyone else. This whole stealth thing is rendered fairly useless by using multiple ground receivers in ones radar system anyway.
              • This whole stealth thing is rendered fairly useless by using multiple ground receivers in ones radar system anyway.

                Very true, for first generation stealth technologies. By most accounts, the US is currently using a third generation stealth technology that bears little resemblance to early capabilities and shares little engineering -- arguably apples and oranges. It is easy to dismiss US stealth capability, but the US has an unparalleled amount of (highly classified) institutional knowledge on stealthy d

            • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @05:34AM (#14931365)
              As for the Russians, they can produce good airframes and decent powerplants, but they lack sophistication in the high-end electronics/software/sensors that pretty much make or break a combat aircraft today.

              What worries most analysts is not so much the capability of Russia to produce an F-35 killer but rather what will happen if China/Russia/India combine to produce a joint stealth fighter project. The resulting machine could conceivably be better than the F-35 and capable of making up it's shortcomings vs. the F-22 by being cheaper to make and easyer to mass manufacture. The idea being that if you can't beat the F-22 technologically use the 'T-34 effect' to swamp forces using the F-22. Now Russia perhaps does not have the economic muscle to mass manufacture a stealth design in a big way but India and especially China do.

              The only comparable jet to the F-35 is the Eurofighter platform, though the capability mix is different.

              Purely in terms of electronics the Eurofighter is probably better than the F-35. The Trance 3 aircraft with all the frills including thrust-vectoring will be even better than the current Typhoons which lack a large portion of the Eurofighters potential feature set. Another thing is that he Eurofighter can supercruise which the F-35 AFAIK can't. The F-35 does have stealth and it is frequently clamied the Typhoon has none, which, according to one US source is due to an European ability to understand but inablitiy to implement Stealth technology. The first part is a half truth, the Typhoon has low observability features, which will probably lower its radar signature considerably but of course never quite as low as those of the F-22 especially. Also keep in mind that the F-35's stealth is compromized by an inability to carry weapons internally unlike the F-22. As for the European inabilty to produce Stealth designs, I find that claim to be funny. I would evaluate the Typhoon as being better the F-35 but not as good as the F-22.

          • Here's the article I read a few days ago It's on the end of page 1 & beginning of page 2 that they explain why exactly the JSF is going to suck.

            The airframe and powerplant is only modestly important in modern combat aircraft, though the US is very good at this type of design.

            Don't believe the hype. Time after time in aviation history has shown that every time "dogfighting" was supposed to be dead, and designs were advanced, that it wasn't quite as dead as they thought, and people died because of the
            • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:58AM (#14931095)
              Time after time in aviation history has shown that every time "dogfighting" was supposed to be dead, and designs were advanced, that it wasn't quite as dead as they thought, and people died because of the mistake.

              I do not disagree with this in general; the demise of many things have been prematurely anticipated. However, most of those things *did* eventually meet their demise, albeit not on the timelines of the prognosticators. The analog to this is armor. The US is field-testing several weapon systems now that will obsolete all types of mobile armor for the foreseeable future -- the operating parameters are such that no normal molecular material of any type can withstand the weapons as a matter of physics. Armor/anti-armor has been an arms race for a very long time, but it looks like it will be settled shortly. The US military research is dealing with the situation by switching strategies: rather than carrying armor that is worthless anyway, develop active defenses that can intercept incoming weapons so that you do not get touched. And so it goes on.

              The reality for combat aircraft is that beyond-visual-range (BVR) weapon systems have become so advanced and so effective today that dogfighting really is largely dead when using these systems. Note that the US has very advanced BVR capability, most other countries are still seriously limited in this regard and so would be dogfighting quite a bit in their conflicts. The US saw the future as it developed the first effective BVR guided missile systems, but the platforms at the time could in no way deliver the future that they were seeing. Several decades later that future is actually here as originally envisioned, as the lethality and effectiveness have incrementally improved. Slow evolutionary steps.

              Speed, range, situational awareness, and seeing the other guy before he sees you are crucial capabilities. The F-35 primarily exploits US capabilities in the last two categories for its advantage, which provides a huge amount of bang for the buck in modern warfare. Systems like the F-22 have a remarkable array of really excellent capabilities, but it costs a lot of money to produce a combat aircraft that is that good in so many dimensions that may be effectively preempted by other capabilities in practice.

        • by 10Ghz ( 453478 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:02AM (#14931105)
          The real selling point to countries like Australia is that they get more advanced versions of the software, electronics, and sensors -- the parts responsible for lethality and survivability to a very large extent -- which are one of the real strengths of US military R&D.

          When Finland bought F/A-18's from USA they were the top-of-the-line planes back then (and they are very, very good even today). Now, fighter-aircraft have a system which transmits data between the plane and the ground and integrates the plane in to the greater whole, and the Hornet is no exception. One of the first things we did was to rip the US-designed system out, and replaced it with a Finnish design, for the sole reason that the US system was just plain inferior.

          The US has no competitor at the very high-end of the quality/effectiveness market

          Europe and their Eurofighter Typhoon? Like it or not, that is a VERY capable aircraft. F-22 might be a bit better, but F-22 also costs a lot more. And according to the only pilot that has actually flown both, they are neck and neck []. He does say that F-22 has supercruise, but The Typhoon has it as well.
        • Australia buys US aircraft because the US is willing to sell it very advanced avionics and electronics for those aircraft

          It's a lot simpler than that - as the obsolete and no longer manufactured submarine torpedo deal which required the Australian submarines to be modified showed. In a lot of cases it's just simple political pressure from elements of the US government to buy things from specific US companies even when some of the competition are other US companies.

          As for the UK wanting the software - ther

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:24AM (#14930523) Journal
    Gee, give us a few jets and we'll get right on writing Open Source Software for them...
  • Come on (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:24AM (#14930524)
    Well after 1776 and 1812, can ya blame America for a little fail-safe? /tongue_in_cheek
    • Re:Come on (Score:3, Funny)

      by eclectro ( 227083 )
      FTA " [the planes] could effectively be "switched off" by the Americans without warning."

      Actually it's not that the British doesn't trust us or that there is a failsafe, it's that we would accidently turn off their planes.

      Personally, I don't think we should turn over the source code, because then the British would see that it runs on a Playstation 3 [].

  • by gklinger ( 571901 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:26AM (#14930530)
    America's reticence to hand over the source code has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with embarrassment. Why? The plane's control software in Visual Basic.
  • by flyingrobots ( 704155 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:27AM (#14930532)
    Maybe they'll post it on Sourceforge ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:27AM (#14930534)
    With all that code, they don't want to buy this plane and then find out that it'll cost them a SIGNIFICANT amount of money later down the road to integrate a new weapons system or sensor onto the aircraft. The US can't 'turn off the software', the software doesn't have a 'Windows Activation'-style system to tell it whether it can run the aircraft or not!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      How do you know? Is it impossible to believe that the US government might want a safety net for modern weapons that deactivates them if they don't receive a signal targeted to the plane's serial number every hour while in flight, with said signal broadcast by satellites with worldwide coverage....GPS perhaps?

      I'm a US citizen but not particularly a fan of how our government does business, but if I was in charge of hardware with such potential damage in the wrong hands, I'd insist on some sort of controls li
  • Nuclear reactors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:28AM (#14930539)
    I wonder if India is insisting on the source code for the control software for the new nuclear reactors to be sold under the new nuke deal. If not America could switch off the reactor control at any time and nuke India without even having to launch missiles
    • Re:Nuclear reactors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by StandardDeviant ( 122674 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:31AM (#14931193) Homepage Journal

      There's huge, huge, huge differences between a nuclear power plant and a nuclear weapon. Nuke plants are not and will never be capable of the same level of destructiveness as a bomb. This is not to say that a meltdown doesn't release very crappy pollution, but it's not an explosive on the same level as a designed weapon.

      (The specifics of why X != Y far overflows the capacity of the /. comment system. Suffice to say that even if the isotopic mix was right [it isn't, not by a loooooooooong shot], the configuration of a plant is all wrong in an area where tolerances are quite intolerant. [More info than you could ever want to know here [].])

      Probably the absolute worst that could be done with remote software would be a chernobyl-type event. And that assumes the target country's engineers blithly accept any plans given to them without taking a single look at fail-off safety measures (i.e. plant shuts down when critical failures occur rather than heating up further like the soviet design did). More likely you'd have either a minor three-mile-island type thing or a passive shutdown (no lights, but no harmful releases either).

  • by Swifti ( 801896 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:30AM (#14930547)
    More info about the Joint Strike Fighter's navigation software here [].
  • No order yet (Score:5, Informative)

    by El Cabri ( 13930 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:31AM (#14930550) Journal
    I don't think that the UK has ordered any JSF yet. What they did is pay part of the development costs, in return for the promise of a share of the industrial pie when the plane enters production. Their high level of financial participation was also supposed to buy them some input in the specification and some sharing of classified technologies, but the Americans largely didn't carry out that part of the deal, which has provoked transatlantic tension lately.

    The JSF is supposed to equip the RNs future carrier ships around around 2015. However as a response to the US Congress looking at cancelation of plans for a Rolls-Royce engine equiped version of the JSF, the British have hinted that they could very well start developing a naval version of the Eurofighter Typhoon, or even consider the already operationnal naval version of the French Rafale.

    • Re:No order yet (Score:5, Informative)

      by gurudyne ( 126096 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:51AM (#14930633)
      "US Congress looking at cancelation(sic) of plans for a Rolls-Royce engine equiped(sic) version"

      Not quite. There are two engine versions right now. The primary version, F135, is by Pratt-Whitney. It uses Rolls-Royce LiftFan (c) components for the F-35B STOVL. After the first several dozen engine/fan sets, GE was supposed to be able to bid with its F136, which has slightly greater RR partnership with the core turbojet and still uses RR LiftFan components. In other words ALL F-35B aircraft will use the LiftFan components.

      RR gets a large slice of the engine pie regardless. It is just slightly larger with the possible GE participation. One of the ideas here is with a competitor's version as an option, there can be a bidding war in the taxpayers' favor.

      And, until they mount bayonet lugs on the F-35B pitot tube, it won't really be a close ground support aircraft.
  • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:33AM (#14930556) Homepage
    When he said [] that the Microsoft way was the "American way"... I mean, lets look at the facts:
    • The US always says "trust us", and then acts in a manner to prove why you shouldn't... just like some folks from Redmond.
    • The US is all about coercive power... kind of like a coercive monopoly we all know.
    • The US built it's fortune from land stolen from the Native Americans... just like Microsoft built their fortune on someone else's code.
    • The US spends a vast fortune spinning each bad thing that comes their way, and never admitting they did any wrong... because to do so would look weak. Sounds very familiar indeed.

    Ultimately, this proves one point... you should never trust any group to do the right thing... not the US, not Google, or Microsoft, and it was foolish in this case that the UK trusted a US company (part of the US military industrial complex)... there should have been a demand for this openness in the contract and at the first sign of secrecy the UK should have threatened to stop payment.

  • by KidSock ( 150684 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:38AM (#14930572)
    If there was a backdoor in the flight control software, I doubt it would help the UK if we gave them the source code because the backdoor would almost certainly be hidden very well. In fact, the backdoor could be in the compiler in which case they would not find anything in the source code. And they can't recompile the sourcecode with their own compiler because they would have to retest everything.
    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:41AM (#14931219) Homepage Journal
      If there was a backdoor in the flight control software, I doubt it would help the UK if we gave them the source code because the backdoor would almost certainly be hidden very well.

      They may have to pay a lot of smart guys to go into the code and find out what it does. Happens all the time, I assure you.

      In fact, the backdoor could be in the compiler in which case they would not find anything in the source code. And they can't recompile the sourcecode with their own compiler because they would have to retest everything.

      A full validation of the system is a good idea every couple of years anyway. I don't see why this shouldn't happen.

      A quick test would be to compile the software and compare your executables with binaries from the distribution. It will at least tell you where there are issues.

  • by inflex ( 123318 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:39AM (#14930575) Homepage Journal
    After the disasters that came with the F1-11 and the F-18, I'm astounded that Australia is -still- going back for another beating. I've got a brother-in-law who works with the F-18's and there's absolutely no end to the 'critical failures' that they're seeing. Given the technical 'superiority' of these JSF's, I'm expecting they'll barely get out of the maintainance hangers. I can't even see a tactical purpose for the JSF in this sun charred, massively open country.

    To be fair, after a lot of overhauls and modifications the F1-11 actually turned out to be a good plane, the F-18 on the other hand...

    • by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:08AM (#14930718) Journal
      When we could have had the vastly superior F-16 or F-15. It's not like we need the naval capabilities of the F-18.

      The US is scrapping their Tomcats, maybe we should just pick some of those up on the cheap.

      In any event, I think you will find the JSF program participation is more to do with the AUSFTA and related political maneuvering and less to do with any inherent characteristics of the plane.
    • by lbrandy ( 923907 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:17AM (#14930973)
      I've got a brother-in-law who works with the F-18's and there's absolutely no end to the 'critical failures' that they're seeing. Given the technical 'superiority' of these JSF's, I'm expecting they'll barely get out of the maintainance hangers.

      To be fair, after a lot of overhauls and modifications the F1-11 actually turned out to be a good plane, the F-18 on the other hand...

      Oh, please. I was an engineer who worked mostly on F15s, but I still have enough expertise to call bullshit. You have it completely backwards. The F-111 was a maintence mess and it became obselete reasonably quickly given the changing dynamic.. by the time they finally got their acts together, it was on its way out the door... but the F18? Are you crazy? It's one of the very few examples of major acquisition programs that went off relatively cleanly. The first 18Es delivered met all the specs, on schedule, and on budget. It has a reputation, in the navy, as being the most dependable plane they have. I've heard it quoted that the Hornet has 3x the mean-time-to-failure of any other aircraft they have. The plane was designed to replace the 14 Tomcat and has, as far as I know, exceeded all expectations. It's better, stronger, cheaper to operate, and is less failure prone.

      I don't know who your "brother in law" is, but all planes have problems. All planes need to be fixed. They are not simple. They get old, and things go bad. It happens. Considering the F18 anything but a resounding success, however, is incredibly ill-informed.

      I can't even see a tactical purpose for the JSF in this sun charred, massively open country.

      You can't? How about the fact that the F18E is one the best anti-ship attack aircraft in the world? Do I need to explain to you the tactical advantage of Australia having that capability? How about the fact that it's far superior air-to-air compared with any of the cold-war era relic airplanes that every rogue nation on that side of the globe has? Even China.
      • by inflex ( 123318 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:49AM (#14931061) Homepage Journal

        The F18's here are having to have total center barrel replacements - mostly because we've used them for roles where the US uses F16/15's. Good case of using the wrong tool for the job.

        The F18's precision bombing ability has only been a recent addition in -our- fleet. Perhaps you guys got some better stuff first up.

        The F18 has insufficient range, speed or strike power to make it ideally practical here in AUSTRALIA. A little different no doubt in the US.

        The F18 isn't really suited for independent action across our gulf to areas such as Indonesia, even more so now with our "opponents" having purchased the Sukhoi's

        The JSF, with about 2000km (vs F111's 6000km) range falls a bit short too. We're a big and SPARSELY populated country here and we don't have the budget to realistically put a nice squadron of JSF's at every bay.

        Basically, Australia is trading its independence ability in and leaning more on the US to support us in the military role.

        Mostly, I'd say it's more a case perhaps of politics causing poor choices, than the planes themselves being implicitly bad.

        Feel free to browse over - []
  • Nice to see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:48AM (#14930618)
    Nice to see how much confidence we inspire in our closest allies.

    Small wonder our enemies don't trust us.
  • by lhoriman ( 872340 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:58AM (#14930660)
    Lockheed's chief scientist, Dr. Gaius Baltar, stated last Friday: "There is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely, no way that the Joint Strike Fighters could be shut down with a software instruction".
  • by surfcow ( 169572 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:05AM (#14930698) Homepage
    There goes our secret plan to take over England.

    Drats. Foiled again.
  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:14AM (#14930754) Homepage
    Having all the source code, and being able to trust it, is only one facet of what is needed. Unless you can trust the entire tool chain, all the code embodied in silicon, etc., you can not fully trust the system. This brings up an interesting issue. Systems are geting so complex, there is simply not enough time to audit them to build real trust.
  • Falkland Islands (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JeffSh ( 71237 ) <> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:39AM (#14930846)
    Let us not forget the lesson learned in the Falkland Islands incident. Britain demanded unlock codes for missiles that the French sold argentina.. brits disabled argentina's exocet missiles and all that. involvement []
    • Not really... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) * on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:19AM (#14930976) Journal
      From the article you link to:

      As France had recently sold Super Entendard aircraft and Exocet missiles to Argentina, when war broke out there was still a French team in Argentina helping to fit out the Exocets and aircraft for Argintinean use. The French team continued to assist the Argentines throughout the war, in spite of the NATO embargo and official French government policy. [2] ... and Argentina did (after all) use Exocets to sink British ships. I don't necessarily blame them - we were at war with them, and killing them just as happily! But it caused a *lot* of anti-French feeling in the UK at the time.


      • Re:Not really... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @05:47AM (#14931389) Homepage Journal
        If you have to criticize the French, you should at least pick a different subject. Here is the beginning of the Wikipedia article [] -- and I can confirm most of it, since the cooperation described was well known in France at the time:

        French president François Mitterrand gave full support to the UK in the Falklands war. As a large part of Argentina's military equipment was French-made, French support was crucial. France provided aircraft, identical to the ones it supplied to Argentina, for British pilots to train against. France provided intelligence to help sabotage the Exocet missiles it sold to Argentina. In her memoirs Margaret Thatcher says of Mitterrand that "I never forgot the debt we owed him for his personal support...throughout the Falklands crisis". Sir John Nott, who was Secretary of State for Defence during the conflict later acknowledged: "In so many ways Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies".

        Sad to see traditional knee-jerk anti-french feelings are alive and well on /.
  • by eagl ( 86459 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:44AM (#14930870) Journal
    The issue is very valid. The question is twofold - Is the US willing to fully share ALL of our military technology with any other country during a period of relative peace (even as strong an ally as the UK), and what price are we willing to pay to keep our most advanced military capabilities to ourselves? Security vs. the budget. A military expert will say that it's stupid to spill all your secrets to ANYONE because mere knowledge of a capability is enough to allow an adversary (or potential adversary) to begin defeating that capability. A budget planner will say that without sharing the technology with partners who will share the program costs, we can't afford to build the hardware so those capabilities would remain purely theoretical (worthless).

    Maybe it's better to do the basic research ourselves but not go that final step to building the hardware until we actually need to use it. This seems to happen a lot, holding back expensive upgrades and hardware purchases until a conflict kicks off, then funding/fielding the new stuff immediately as the budget expands when a conflict arises. But the JSF is such a massive project, it may not be possible to back-burner the program as a US-only effort. That means we may have to compromise some very unique capabilities in order to be able to actually field them ourselves. Tough choice.

    Can't blame the JSF partners for playing hardball though... The JSF is almost entirely software driven as almost every single system is operated via a touch-screen interface instead of traditional switches, so not having the source code means that when something breaks, fixing it is somewhat more problematic than replacing a defective hardware switch. If you don't have the code, you have a really expensive flying Xbox that could quit working without warning and can't possibly be repaired.

    You can't even replace busted hardware without the required software, because the hardware is all operated and tested via software. You can't just flip a switch to test the radar, because the switch is controlled by the computer which (should) report system status and troubleshooting data if it quits working.

    A sensible approach would be to distribute an export version of the software, but I'm pretty sure that the original contract did not include parallel-but-equal lines of code development. To duplicate a multi-million-line codebase at this stage in the program would be cost prohibitive. You'd think they would have thought of this before... Like 15 years ago...
  • by mr_burns ( 13129 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:47AM (#14930876)
    We could do like sendmail and have the version we have for the US fighters and the version we give to our partners.

    GPL would actually work really well for the partner version. We already set terms in our contracts about who arms can be re-sold to or a right to first refusal. And GPL says you only have to reveal source to people you distribute to. If we hold partners to only releasing source to those they distribute to, the security through obscurity knobs are placated while the partners have an open codebase they can collectively hack on.

    This helps everybody involved. Our partners can imporve upon their investment and more eyes fix bugs faster. And the hawks in the US can settle their nerves because they can choose to participate in the partner codebase yet still have their 'commercial' version to fall back on if they all of a sudden don't trust the open version.

    The clincher of course is controlling who the planes and associated software are distribited to. You can't put a genie back in a bottle. But then again, if source being leaked breaks the security of your product... it was never secure to begin with.
  • by nickgrieve ( 87668 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:48AM (#14930881) Journal
    absolutely sane thing to ask for

    Its a weapon of war, so if your going to use it when it counts, and not just a few flybys at an air show, then your going to be at war. Who knows what state of war that will be, it could be a few sorties to bomb a wedding party or two, or it could be full nuclear MAD, lines of communication could be down, satellites down etc etc...

    If you can't update an modify the software when you need it, those planes could be as good as craters in the runway.
  • by horacerumpole ( 877156 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:49AM (#14930884)
    As far as I'm aware, the F-15I (the Israeli version of the F-15) has its entire software built in Israel. I heard that all versions of F-15's have at least some of their systems built by Israeli sub-contractors.

    You can take an example from the commercial world - I worked for startups which had to put their source code in escrow as part of pilot agreements with Fortune-100 companies.

    So I don't think it's unreasonable or even extra-ordinary for the Brits to want the source too. Just prudent.

  • by jjustus ( 932941 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:57AM (#14930914)

    if enemy.shot_down
    cockpit_announce("Top Gun!");
    kill_count += 1;
    if kill_count > 5
    cockpit_announce("Killing Spree!");

  • by kbielefe ( 606566 ) * <karl.bielefeldt+ ... com minus threev> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:35AM (#14931020)
    This is a pretty common practice. At my job we are required to frequently go through quite a rigorous process to make sure nothing sensitive to U.S. national security makes it into exported source code. Actually delivering compilable source costs a lot extra, is specified in a contract, and comes with training and a compile/test environment.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:32AM (#14931198)
    I mean, be serious. Imagine there's a shutdown backdoor in the plane software (or whatever) that allows remote controlled shutdown. Key question: What if that code falls into enemy's hands?

    And it WILL. No matter how tight security is, there are human beings who know the necessary details. Think it's hard for (insert terrorist group or anti-US government) to shell out enough money to convince someone to betray his country? They only need to find ONE person willing to trade patriotism for money. Take your average politician and it's even rather cheap.

    Do you think the US government is stupid enough to let something like this happen? Ok, let me rephrase that question: Do you think a company who wants to make deals with the feds in the future would actually build something like that? Because one thing's for sure, even if the gov demands a backdoor in their planes, once it gets out (not if, when), who'll be the one to blame?

    So the claim that they need to know if there's a backdoor is a frontend for the real threat: That they'll be forced to use US weapons and ammo on those planes, too, because they cannot adapt their tools of destruction to the controlling software without knowing how it works. And if you actually plan to do something with your shiny new military hardware other than showing it off, that's where the real costs are hiding.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll