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Nuclear Subs Now Run on Windows

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 55 comments
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Microsoft Windows is now powering the British Royal Navy's nuclear-armed submarine fleet; giving all new meaning to the Blue Screen of Death.

It would seem the British Royal Navy and BAE Systems have quite a bit of trust in the Microsoft Windows operating system, as BAE Systems have now finished retrofitting twelve Royal Navy submarines with systems running Windows XP and Windows 2000. The project, called Submarine Command System Next Generation (SMCS-NG), was in the works since 2002, when it was first proposed that commercial PC hardware running Microsoft Windows could be used as a platform for sensor and weapon control applications.

According to Captain Pat O’Neill, leader of the Ministry of Defence’s Submarine Combat System Group, “This is a fantastic achievement. From speaking to operators and maintainers, I know how much they like SMCS NG. BAE Systems work is proof that we can get commercial off the shelf technology to sea quickly and support it affordably”.

The move to use off-the-shelf PC hardware for the naval command systems, instead of custom-built components, is expected to reduce support costs by 25-percent, resulting in a savings of nearly $33M over the first ten years. Implementation of the new the systems was also very quick, with the entire project finishing six months ahead of schedule and taking as little as 18 days to convert a single submarine. In total, seven Trafalger-class submarines, four Vanguard-class submarines and one Swift-class submarine have been fitted with SMCS-NG, along with a number of systems ashore.

The precise hardware used in the SMCS-NG's design is not known, but it probably features rugged, embedded x86 components, rather than just a selection of parts picked up from the local Best Buy. What is known though is that the design uses an Ethernet-based Local Area Network and multi-function consoles with two large LCD displays.

While there have been concerns raised over the security of Windows as an operating system, the UK parliament has stated that the use of Microsoft Windows is low risk. It would seem the Windows-based systems are isolated, which should mean there is little chance of an outside cyber-attack starting Armageddon.  Linux had been discussed as an alternative, which already found a home aboard the Sonar 2076 consoles used in the Astute-class submarines.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 22, 2008 6:25 PM
    Switch to MS = 25% cost reduction. Switch to Apple = 25% cost increase and limited to Soviet era hardware.
  • 12 Hide
    Joe_The_Dragon , December 22, 2008 6:43 PM
    Clippy says It looks like you are trying to shoot a torpedo do you need help?
  • 10 Hide
    squatchman , December 22, 2008 6:59 PM
    Well now, if we look at the other options:

    Linux: You only need to edit three configuration files and recompile the kernel source to get to the mission area. A scant twenty or thirty commands from the console. Easy!

    OS X: Firing is as easy as either hitting the Command-shift-tab-5-backspace hotkey or finding the correct way to massage the mighty mouse. You can't aim that shot with current hardware, but that sub is gonna look great and that is all that matters.
Other Comments
    Display all 55 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    gm0n3y , December 22, 2008 5:00 PM
    Oh good, "Launch torpedoes!", "I can't captain, I got a damn BSOD.", "****".
  • 8 Hide
    dcoaster , December 22, 2008 5:02 PM
    Cue the Windows bashers...
  • 3 Hide
    resonance451 , December 22, 2008 5:06 PM
    Jesus, when will we get rid of the propaganda? The Windows OS is not inherently unstable, definitely not more so than a lot of competing OS.
  • 4 Hide
    squatchman , December 22, 2008 5:07 PM
    The machines will be isolated and I'm sure they're going to be locked down, so as long as some mouth-breather doesn't decide to bring his iPod to work and hook it in to the sub then there shouldn't be any problem.

    That said, I really hope that they have failsafe controls in place in case their retrofit goes bad.
  • 6 Hide
    brendano257 , December 22, 2008 5:17 PM
    I thought they would use Windows in prisons because it's soooo good at locking up....tehehehe ^_^
  • 7 Hide
    gm0n3y , December 22, 2008 5:29 PM
    I'm sure its will be as reliable as whatever they were using before, but I'm sure eventually, one day, somebody on one of the ships will get a BSOD and everyone will make fun of M$ for it. I was just beating them to the punch.
  • 5 Hide
    rocky1234 , December 22, 2008 5:33 PM
    I am sorry but the torpedo you want to launch can not happen right now because windows has recovered from a error & needs to reboot thank & have a nice day.
  • 7 Hide
    daft , December 22, 2008 5:37 PM
    and they couldnt get Ubuntu or debian why?
  • 4 Hide
    squatchman , December 22, 2008 5:41 PM
    Believe it or not daft, sometimes(especially dealing in political circles) you have to purchase software due to contractual obligation. I'm not saying it's right.
  • 1 Hide
    ckthecerealkiller , December 22, 2008 5:46 PM
    I've built many a computer and the only time I have ever encountered a problem was bad software or hardware conflicting with the fine and dandy OS. The problem is that people think Windows is so user friendly that you should be able to do whatever they want with it. /endrant

    Anyway, I would love to see what they have done with this. It's a step in the right direction if you ask me.
  • 2 Hide
    fonzy , December 22, 2008 5:46 PM
    "Sir I can't launch torpedo's" ...."I thought you fixed that problem when you installed SP2"..."I did but now the targeting system is down."
  • 0 Hide
    nebun , December 22, 2008 6:00 PM
    here comes WW 3
  • 3 Hide
    nebun , December 22, 2008 6:02 PM
    just think of how many of our naval boats and subs already use windows. no problems, but then again, who knows.
  • 3 Hide
    dcoaster , December 22, 2008 6:09 PM
    daftand they couldnt get Ubuntu or debian why?

    Because Ubuntu is the most unstable OS I have ever used.
  • 1 Hide
    gm0n3y , December 22, 2008 6:13 PM
    Hopefully no malcontent at M$ has put in a backdoor to controlling the world's navy.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , December 22, 2008 6:17 PM
    This could give a whole new meaning to "This program has preformed an illegal operation."
  • 15 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 22, 2008 6:25 PM
    Switch to MS = 25% cost reduction. Switch to Apple = 25% cost increase and limited to Soviet era hardware.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , December 22, 2008 6:31 PM
    This is so wrong at so many levels I am not sure where to begin. And it does not have anything with OS stability or anything related to computers, but rather human nature. Now any operator, unknowingly and due to serious neglect (or moment of dumbness, inebriation, or whatnot) can sneak aboard e.g. an USB stick with some porn or whatever, infected with some sort of malware. God know what it can do when it starts spreading. Before, with custom system, you simply did not have the possibility of consumer-grade viruses to roam through submarine computers. Now you have to implement and enforce just another layer of staff regulations that are, as always, prone to violation, just to be safe from something you had before as a given.
  • 4 Hide
    pocketdrummer , December 22, 2008 6:32 PM
    I agree with the guy above. Linux would have been the best choice... and I'm a windows/mac user. Free costs much less than even $.01 per OS. Oh, and you can pretty much tweak it to whatever means necessary. Not to mention, Linux is known for it's stability.
  • 4 Hide
    gm0n3y , December 22, 2008 6:33 PM
    Since when did Toms turn into a windows fanboy site anyways? I get that everyone hates Apple, but how does that turn everyone towards M$?
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