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.