Royal Navy goes with 'Windows for Subs'

The British Royal Navy is installing a modified version of Windows XP on its fleet of nuclear submarines, in a victory at sea for commercial off-the-shelf technology.

Mark Rutherford
The military establishment's ever increasing reliance on technology and whiz-bang gadgetry impacts us as consumers, investors, taxpayers and ultimately as the defended. Our mission here is to bring some of these products and concepts to your attention based on carefully selected criteria such as importance to national security, originality, collateral damage to the treasury and adaptability to yard maintenance-but not necessarily in that order. E-mail him at markr@milapp.com. Disclosure.
Mark Rutherford
2 min read

Bucking the open-source trend, the British Royal Navy has developed a modified version of Microsoft Windows XP and has begun installing it on its fleet of nuclear submarines.

The new Submarine Command System Next Generation (SMCS NG) employs standard multifunction consoles with double LCD screens, linked with "commercial grade" cables and software to internal Ethernet local area networks (LANs) aboard each sub.

Ever thrifty, the spit-and-baling-wire Brits went with Windows in part because it was cheaper to maintain. The use of commercial off-the-shelf technology is expected to save the U.K. taxpayers up to $32 million over the next 10 years -- or about one-thousandth of the operating costs of a Vanguard class submarine, according to one estimate.

"This is a fantastic achievement," Capt. Pat O'Neill said in a press release. "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 Royal Navy, working with defense contractor BAE Systems, installed an entire Windows SMCS NG LAN on the HMS Vigilant in a mere 18 days, according to BAE.

Training time is faster as well. Given that Windows runs on approximately 85 percent of the world's PCs, there is a good chance sailors are familiar with it. However, so are hackers -- both the amateur and the cyber warfare pro variety. Not a problem, according to BAE, since all hack-prone elements of Windows "were tended to during the modification."

Meanwhile the Yanks, citing better security and more versions to choose from, continue to go all-in with Linuxto boot up both warships and the long awaited Future Combat Systems. But then, they still drive on the wrong side of the road.