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Windows For Warships Nearly Ready 387

mattaw writes "The Register is carrying the sanest and balanced article on Windows deployment in UK warships that I have read to date in the public domain. As an ex-naval bod myself we have long considered that this is potentially a REAL problem. The main issues are the huge amount of unrelated code that is imported with the kernel and the need for incredibly fast response times."
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Windows For Warships Nearly Ready

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  • by tomknight ( 190939 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @12:36PM (#18154128) Homepage Journal
    Well, it looked like you read the article - until you stated that "As the article shows, their main connection is a unidirectional 300 baud ship-to-shore link." The artcle did not state that this is the case for the type 45 destroyers, merely for the Vanguard class subs. It *did* say that the destroyers had many network links and that RN base security can be rubbish (and gave a link to a BBC article on a Sun reporter gaining access to an aircraft carrier - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/5032516.s tm [bbc.co.uk]). While I agree that W2k can be hardened when used properly, I have doubts that it's necessarily the best option.
  • by TERdON ( 862570 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @12:40PM (#18154186) Homepage
    Actually, Linux IS realtime [slashdot.org]. But most people don't use it that way, and I'm not sure if there are that many applications really using the realtime extensions...
  • by Hijacked Public ( 999535 ) * on Monday February 26, 2007 @12:42PM (#18154202)
    I'm not really a fanboy of any particular piece of software, but most of the problems I have noticed with various Linux systems relative to Windows revolve around either the unavailability of an application I needed or the ass brained process of actually installing an app once found. That goes double for hardware.

    In the case of military systems I would think both of those problems would be avoided as they are going to be running hardware and software designed specifically for the application and none of it would be user installed.

    As for the interface I suspect it would take some digging to figure out that a finished battleship control system was running Windows. I doubt there will be a Start -> Games -> Pinball menu choice next to the window running the radar console. Most popular HMI [citect.com] packages for manufacturing equipment run on Windows and any good setup will hide any component of the OS that isn't needed to run that machine. Or if an intuitive UI really is a big deal, there is always OSX.

    The biggest advantage Windows has over everything else is that it will generally work with any hardware or software a person might pick off the shelf of any podunk software store anywhere on earth. For desktops that trumps all its disadvantages. For installing on a battleship I don't see how that gives it a leg up.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday February 26, 2007 @12:50PM (#18154340)

    Regarding the crashing though, I found that on my Windows system, most crashes can be attributed to either

    (A) Bad hardware
    (B) Bad drivers - usually the graphics driver.

    While that may be your experience, if such were the case with the majority, Windows would be far more reliable than it is.

    That would be because it should be easy to identify the buggy drivers (your "B") or to use a diagnostic program to stress test the other components (your "A").

    In my experience (supporting 100+ workstations), Windows is just arcane. Following the exact same install process with the exact same install CD's will give you different results on different machines (same make and model) ... and if you do it often enough you'll get different results on the same machine.

    Then we get into the whole concept of the Registry and DLL Hell and so forth. Un-installing an app may not get rid of all of the crap from that app and so you'll have stuff just sitting around waiting to trigger a crash. And different versions of DLL files overwrite each other so re-installing may fix app A, but break app B.

    Troubleshooting on Linux is so much easier and faster. Which is one of the reasons I prefer Ubuntu (or vanilla Debian).
  • by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @01:17PM (#18154798)
    The answer is "because it works".

    It should also be mentioned that due to cosmic radiation it's better to use larger circuits instead of those smaller and smaller processes that are used for modern CPUs as that reduces the likelyhood of data corruption through radiation.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @01:18PM (#18154818)
    Putting all the blue-screen jokes aside, this might be a good thing.

    Windows does have a closed-source kernel, but it does have the advantage of hosting a user interface that even the most basic-knowledge recruit will know. Windows is on 90+% of the world's computers, and absolutely every younger person knows how to navigate around in it.

    Here's a parallel example from my line of work...the airline business. Lots of carriers have systems that were designed 20-30 years ago. Most have GUIs slapped over the top of a terminal emulator, but even those are cryptic. Some airlines send their customer service agents to a month of training just to get them to memorize the key parts of the system. I would imagine military systems of the same vintage are even more complex, and force a serviceperson to endure many months of training. Training, by the way, that will prove useless in the real world.

    I'll bet the defense contractors designing any Windows-based system have full access to the kernel source anyway. Also, don't forget that stuff designed for the battlefield isn't exactly slapped together by a bunch of new graduates who picked up a ".NET for Dummies" book.
  • Trident FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday February 26, 2007 @01:50PM (#18155420) Homepage
    I cannot speak to the rest of the article; but I will say that most of what it says in relation to the HMS Vanguard and Trident (-II) missiles is nothing but pure FUD (those parts that aren't utter nonsense). The missiles and guidance systems are controlled by a variant of the MK98/1 FCS used by the US for the same purpose - and the only significant difference between the two variants is that the UK version is 'cut down' to handle 16 missiles vice the 24 missile version used by the US.
    And the 98/1 is incapable of running Windows without a ground up rewrite - it's a (IIRC) 24 bit machine with an architecture that is (to put it mildly) wildly different from a PC.
    The line "We're starting to search really hard for things to panic about here." from TFA could more accurately be written "We're writing nonsense here without actually having a clue" - which makes one wonder about the veracity of the remainder of the article. Especially since on a mailing list for sailors and naval professionals (of many nations) I am on, many things about US and UK kit are discussed - but the massive reliability issues TFA brings up (handwaves) are notable by their absence.
    The bit in TFA about paper charts is especially telling - because any experienced and knowledgable sailor knows those charts have been retained on purpose. Charts don't crash - and the vast majority of the time they are more than sufficient to the task.
    From TFA:

    To this very day, RN navigators typically have to track the ship's position in pencil on a paper chart. There is normally no moving-map display of the sort found in every merchant ship - or even minicab. The results of this luddism are often expensive [bbc.co.uk] and embarrassing [bbc.co.uk].

    More pure FUD - because having a high tech navigation system is no proof against crashing into things. Witness the recent grounding of USS San Francisco - caused by a combination of operator error and a bit of seafloor being less than accurately mapped. (Much of the Earth's water is poorly mapped by modern standards - including harbors!) Equally, consider the hundreds of times a year the RN *does* move in and out of harbor without crashing into things.
    I could go on - but I can summarize fairly succinctly; The author of the Register article not only appears to know very little about Naval matters, but he appears to have learned what he does know from USENET trolls and Slashdot. The biography appended to the article indicates he spent his time in EOD - not someone I would expect to be knowledgeable about ship operations. It also reveals he wrote a book detailing the problems with the procurement system - whose Amazon reviews show to contain a systemic bias againt BAE.
    My qualifications? (Since the question will come up.) 10 years in the USN Submarine Service working with the MK88 and MK 98 Trident Fire Control Systems, as well as 30 odd years of studying naval technology and issues.
  • by markandrew ( 719634 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @01:53PM (#18155494)
    I used to work in this field (supplying software to the Navy, for use onboard warships), and the one thing I can state from my time working with people in the Navy is that they're definitely more interested in things working than in things looking good. I don't know the background to Windows being chosen, but if it was a decision made by the type of people I used to work with/for (I worked for a Navy supplier, so HM Royal Navy was in effect our client), having fancy popup messages and nice-looking GUIs won't have been anywhere near their top priority. This isn't the sort of thing that gets rushed - it's likely to have taken months if not years to come to this decision. The article's mention of outdated technology is pretty accurate - and it is because that technology has a history of doing the job well. Of course, if the decision to use Windows was made by politicians or economists...

    Having said that, while I worked on these projects, at the same agency the FIST project was getting under way (a project to equip infantry with personal computer/weapons systems, with HUD in-helmet). At least in our part of the business, it was a standing joke because it ran on windows (95, I think) and kept crashing (our team was using Solaris at the time).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 26, 2007 @02:33PM (#18156134)

    How long until the "Blue Screen of Death" (BSOD) has a somewhat more ominous (and literal) meaning?

    You mean like the USS Yorktown?

    http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/19.88.html#subj1 [ncl.ac.uk]

    It was dead in the water for 2 hour, 45 minutes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 26, 2007 @03:20PM (#18156972)
    And it had nothing to do with NT. It was a control app that apparently did no sanity checks and tried to divide by zero when someone entered bad data. I'm not sure how an OS could prevent such an idiotic thing. Can UNIX divide by zero?
  • by trianglman ( 1024223 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @03:23PM (#18157030) Journal
    You didn't read very far in the article. It says, very plainly, that while the Vanguard submarines aren't regularly connected over anything useful. The type 45 destroyers, that require enormous amounts of precision in their instruments, and have large payloads, are very connected, not only to other destroyers but to satellite networks and even (over a couple networks) to the net.
  • by neil.orourke ( 703459 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @05:48PM (#18159112)

    I think this option is better than Linux or F/OSS operating systems that would possibly require MORE training for their programmers and users to learn.

    You must not be a resident of the United Kingdom. I find it interesting that any country's government or military would rely on a foreign proprietary piece of software to reach mission critical goals.

    You mean like how Australia is strongly considering it's involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project because we can't get access to the source code?

    http://www.aph.gov.au/Library/Pubs/rn/2005-06/06 rn32.htm is a current overview of our involvement and committment, and the very first issue (under Current Issues) is access to the source.

    From the report:

    While earlier problems such as aircraft weight and range have apparently been solved, questions about the release of the computer source code that makes the aircraft so unique have emerged as a potential showstopper for international clients. The source code in question refers to the millions of lines of computer code that allow this 21st-century aircraft to fly and to fight. Without complete access to this source code, Australia will be unable to modify or even maintain the aircraft independently--as it has done so successfully for many years with the F-111.

    The question about the release of the source code to Australia has not been confirmed publicly. It is understood that maintenance of the JSF will be undertaken in a regional logistics and maintenance centre run by Lockheed Martin. Without access to the source code, Australia may in coming decades be put in the invidious position of having no option but to pay whatever Lockheed Martin asks during future contract negotiations for the ongoing maintenance of Australia's strike fighters.

    It seems that the UK is also considering pulling out of the F-35 for the same reason - and if the UK pulls out, so might Australia.
  • US Navy... (Score:4, Informative)

    by CherniyVolk ( 513591 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @06:05PM (#18159328)

    Sometime in the early 90s, many of the west coast fleet had adopted a WindowsNT based system dubbed "IT21" (Information Technology, 21st Century). If I recall correctly, SPAWAR (a US Navy owned Corporation), was a considerable driving force behind deployment. Most of the use for this IT21 system was for console/end-user use. And not necessarily used for firecontrol, navigation, tactical displays et al. Thank god, but this system was plagued from the get go. Sadly, many of those who go to work for SPAWAR aren't really bright as too many are old retired Navy Chiefs and Officers riding it out in a nice, secure job.

    Side Note: What SPAWAR should be doing, is to aggressively recruit military personal on their way out of the armed forces. All military forces go through a lot of debriefing for those deciding to not re-enlist or continue their commission. A lengthy "education" effort, that gives us more than two weeks of "What benefits you get from the VA", "Your rights as a Veteran", "Montgomery GI Bill and how to use it"... et al. But, they don't... I never saw a SPAWAR rep asking any of us if we would like to apply--(since we are technically active military, initiate a "agency" transfer request from one to another.)

    Back on topic. The entire network was a mess. And the fact it was Windows didn't make it any cleaner. BDCs, PDCs... crashing right and left, half the time entire decks (which is a big deal on an aircraft carrier) were offline. But, one very disturbing thing is...

    A (once upon a time) friend and I compromised the entire Windows based network. Because I had (and still maintain) a clearance, oh boy, it was an issue that had me pretty nervous. Nevermind the details of this. Let us simply acknowledge that the US Navy doesn't have a sense of humor!

    The entire infrastructure for the IT21 system was infested with numerous security issues. Not exactly the problems of those designing the network because most of the problems were due to Microsoft Software and recommended or required services to accomodate the design requirements.

    Is it still as bad? Unless the Navy has flipped upside-down, delcare the aft end of a ship the front... IT21 system is likely still being used. Admiral... whoever at the time also pushed the issue in an effort to update the technology used by the sailors in the Fleet. (While the Navy always had impressive R&D, and neat technology buried deep within implementation. Most of the sailors were still using 486s on the desktops, which makes the Navy seem "out-dated" regardless if they actually were. Let's face it, a sailor to do his job still doesn't need much more than a 486 for most of them. In any case, as with a General, an Admiral makes a demand a billion other hopeful high-ranking personell will use their power to "suck him off in hopes of getting recommended to 'Flag'". Things get done, whether for the best or the worst.

    There wasn't many computers on our Carrier we didn't have full access to. From the unix servers down in the RM (Radio Man) space, to the skippers personal IT21 desktop in his room.

    BTW, we got off scotch free. And the speed in which we compromised the network could cause nose-bleeds. The network was so bad, that half the time (for the only reason we compromised the network), we ended up having to play "Admin" and fixing things (including making things more secure.) so we could do what we wanted.

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