The US Navy is f*ckeed as well
The U.S. Navy Does Windows
By Charles W. Moore
The Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California recently sponsored a junket for Silicon Valley execs., government boffins, academics and media types aboard the U.S. Navy's Aircraft Carrier USS Constellation, in aid of publicizing the high tech nature of today's Navy. Among those who went along was the Los Angeles Times' Larry Magid.
Magid's account of the excursion can be found here, in which he quotes Rear Admiral Robert Chaplain saying that a major complaint is that much of the navy's technology is incompatible with other systems, with one ship using Microsoft Office and Outlook, while another uses WordPerfect and Lotus Notes. There was no mention of Macs in the article.
Constellation and most other Navy ships use PC boxes mostly running Windows NT, but there are some UNIX systems as well. However, Admiral Chaplain told Larry Magid that the Navy's objective is to have all machines on a ship running on the same operating system and connected to each other via a shipwide LAN.
The official Navy plan, called "Information Technology for the 21st Century" or "IT 21," is intended to "link all U.S. forces and eventually even our allies together in a network that enables voice, video and data transmissions from a single desktop PC, allowing warfighters to exchange information," Admiral Archie Clemins, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told Magid. A Navy insider tells me that Admiral Clemins has been a "prime mover" in influencing the Navy to go with all-NT systems, and IT-21 includes a directive to use standard Intel-based hardware and to adopt Windows NT as the standard server network operating system. What is it they say about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron?
As Larry Magid comments, "Although I'm pleased to see the Navy transitioning to off-the-shelf products, I'm a bit nervous about standardizing on NT. It's scary enough that Microsoft has a near monopoly in the commercial sector, but even scarier to think that -- long after Bill Clinton is no longer commander in chief -- Bill Gates will be in command of our Navy's operating system."
You'd think the U.S. Navy would have learned its lesson about Windows after an incident in September, 1997, when one of the Navy's so-called "Smart Ships," the Aegis class guided missile cruiser Yorktown (CG 48), lost control of its propulsion system during maneuvers off the coast of Cape Charles, Virginia, because its Pentium computers running brain-dead Windows NT were unable to divide by the number zero. According to a civilian engineer on the scene, the 567 foot, 9,600 ton warship had to be towed back into port, and not for the first time. Yorktown's Standard Monitoring Control System administrator entered zero into the data field for the Remote Data Base Manager program, causing the database to overflow and crash all of the ship's LAN consoles and miniature remote terminal units. It took two days of pierside maintenance to fix the problem.
Yorktown was using dual "ruggedized" 200-MHz Pentium Pros from Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala. The PCs and server were running Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 in 256M of RAM from 4G hard drives over a high-speed, fiber- optic Windows NT 4.0 LAN. Yorktown complies with the Navy's IT 21 specifications. A separate, administrative LAN connected more than 80 PCs running Windows 3.1 and Microsoft Office for functions such as e-mail.
According to reports quoting Anthony DiGiorgio, a civilian engineer with the Atlantic Fleet Technical Support Center in Norfolk who has serviced automated control systems on Navy ships for more than a quarter-century, the NT operating system was the source of Yorktown's computer problems. NT applications aboard the Yorktown run damage control, the ship's bridge control center, monitor the engines, and navigate the ship when under way. Besides the Integrated Bridge System, the Pentium Pros ran the Integrated Condition Assessment System, Standard Machinery Control System, Voyage Management System and Damage Control System. Sailors using the Voyage Management System voyage system can steer the ship by trackball.
"If you understand computers, you know that a computer normally is immune to the character of the data it processes," DiGiorgio wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute's "Proceedings" Magazine. "Your $2.95 calculator, for example, gives you a zero when you try to divide a number by zero, and does not stop executing the next set of instructions. It seems that the computers on the Yorktown were not designed to tolerate such a simple failure." Duh. Of course it's Windows we're talking about here.
In a letter to Congresswoman The Honorable Deborah Pryce, Ohio, dated 11 Dec 98, D.E. Porter, Chief Information Officer for the Navy at the Pentagon in Washington, argues that "Our interviews and studies have shown that the YORKTOWN failure was not an NT issue, but a case of a not-fully-tested control system's software update being placed aboard ship." Maybe, but I and many others remain highly skeptical of this sort of spin-doctoring. However I'd be happy to review and report on the evidence if the Navy wants to send me copies.
"Using Windows NT, which is known to have some failure modes, on a warship is similar to hoping that luck will be in our favor," Anthony DiGiorgio is quoted saying. "There is very little segregation of error when software shares bad data. Instead of one computer knocking off on the Yorktown, they all did, one after the other. What if this happened in actual combat?" Indeed.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy's Pacific and Atlantic fleets in March 1997 selected NT 4.0 as the standard OS for both networks and PCs as part of the IT 21 initiative. Current guidance approved by the Navy's chief information officer calls for all new applications to run under NT.
"Because of politics, some things are being forced on us that without political pressure we might not do, like Windows NT," Ron Redman, deputy technical director of the Fleet Introduction Division of the Aegis Program Executive Office is quoted as saying. "If it were up to me I probably would not have used Windows NT in this particular application. If we used Unix, we would have a system that has less of a tendency to go down."
The top-down mandated switch to Intel/Windows NT is especially bitter for personnel at the U.S. Navy's at China Lake and Point Mugu, California, which had been one of the most Mac-oriented organizations in the country.
According to a source at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, an internal Navy procurement memo specifically states: "Intel based PC." "No PowerPC, no AMD, no Cyrix, no SPARC. Just Intel. This is 'sole source' and illegal without a justification, which has not been written. If it had said 'or compatible' we could continue to purchase Macs, so long as we got Virtual PC. This was worded specifically to keep Macs and Unix stations from being purchased without a waiver. Note also that it specifies 'Windows NT' as the operating system. There is a federal procurement regulation (widely ignored obviously) that states that no software shall be purchased that is not Y2K compliant, which Windows is not.
"Note finally that the email system chosen to replace all the disparate proprietary email systems we have is also a proprietary email system. At one base alone, the cost of switching to MS Exchange will be over $17 Million in taxpayer dollars, when we have the equipment to set up POP or IMAP nearly for free. And POP or IMAP is far more reliable and compatible with communications worldwide."
Another person at the Naval Air Warfare Center, who also requests anonymity, says: "In my view, and this is only my opinion, the move [iT 21] is not only illegal, but wrong. Moving the Navy completely towards a proprietary computer (a memo quoted states only 'Intel' computers could be purchased) and a proprietary OS (Windows) is against Navy procurement standards requiring OPEN competition. If anything, the Navy should stress compatibility, and open standards. MS Windows is not an open standard."
Navy personnel heard from point out that the argument that a single platform is needed to ensure "interoperability and seamless communication among Navy entities" is a red herring notion. If real standard e-mail, file transfer, data base connectivity, and communications protocols (such as TCP/IP, which is the communication protocol understood and used by everyone on the Internet) are adopted, all client machines will communicate equally well whether they're running UNIX, OS/2, or Mac OS.
For his/her part, the Pentagon's D.E. Porter claims in the letter to Rep. Pryce that: "Regarding your constituent's concerns related to compliance with Federal procurement policies, the ITSG contains no mandatory requirements and specifically states that it cannot be used as justification for less than full and open competitive acquisition." How "full and open competitive acquisition" squares with the mandated purchase of a proprietary product available from a single source evades me. The constituent referred to, Dan Johnson, is unconvinced as well, and tells me that he has been looking at the ITSG and the IT-21 information and gathering a rebuttal on the Navy's letter. Dan has also been in contact with the IEEE committee concerning the registration of POSIX compliant OSes (which the IT documents require)." That, among other things, refutes the Navy's reply to Rep Pryce," says Johnson.
Another anonymous source, formerly with the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), says that he initially favored the Mac and then, after several months of research, changed his mind in support of Windows NT. However, he now states "I do not feel that NT has lived up to its promise (marketing hype?) and in hindsight, I regret my support of it. How much different things might be right now if I had towed the line and staunchly supported the Mac at TOPGUN? But whatever side you decide to take in the Navy, it better be the same as your boss."
"Everybody plays the obedience role where you cannot criticize the system," commented Anthony DiGiorgio. "I'm not that kind of guy."
David Kastrup of the Institut fur Neuroinformatik in Bochum, Germany observed last year that "The specifications call for use of Windows NT 5.0 [now Windows 2000] when available, without any prior tests for usability or whatever. This means that the military is signing a blank cheque of trust to Microsoft to deliver what their marketing hype promises.
"In view of the fact that
a) Microsoft never really delivered half of what they promised;
b) technically apt people have voiced particularly large scepticism with regard to the expected reliability of NT 5.0, [Windows 2000] which is said to be composed of about half of newly written code under time pressure;
c) reliability is a concern of utmost importance in military applications and failures can lead to numerous casualties;
"The silliness of the 'we are going to take, use and swallow whatever Microsoft chooses to throw at us next, and we are guaranteeing that, even if it be the death of us' stance is stupid enough viewed from that angle, too. Unfortunately, when done in the military, it can result in the death of more than just the people making the decision.
"The correct way to do business is to define the goals, then look for the system best meeting them, not determining some not even yet existent system one is going to use and hope that it might meet the specs. In particular, if it has been as bad in meeting any specs in the past as Windows has on its record.
"And of course, in the military there are systems that need to meet real-time constraints. Prohibiting using any real-time operating system (which NT isn't) for that purpose is not going to help.
"This is, well, daring."
In a web-published article on the Yorktown affair, entitled "Windo ws NT saves the navy money, not soldiers," Nuno D Pereira writes: "the impact of this application on users is that their lives may be jeopardized in the time of war. Perhaps the market push and political pressure may influence the Navy to use "infant" operating systems like NT. However, when the life of our soldiers is in jeopardy, I would not hesitate to use a true operating system like UNIX, that has been around for 25 years.
But as one of the Pt. Mugu personnel puts it: "Unfortunately, our climbing into bed with Microsoft is kind of like climbing into the Roach Motel -- easy to get in, but hell to leave. That combined with the military's natural bureaucratic inertia means that we're probably stuck with Microsoft's not quite good enough software for decades to come. No matter how embarrassing the inevitable Windows NT failures are to the military, Microsoft will be so entrenched that there will be no turning back."
For more information and comment on the US Navy's Windows - dependency, check these articles:
USS Yorktown dead in water after divide by zero By Peter G. Neumann
PCs let crew of USS Yorktown run a tight ship By Bill Murray