Microsoft Sinks U.S. Navy

Is Taiwan's Next?

Francis Vale

So there you are in September 1997, captain of the universe, or might as well have been, as you are the captain of the USS Yorktown, measuring 567 feet from bow to stern, displacing 9,600 tons, powered by four gas turbine engines developing more than 80,000 horsepower and just the second ship in a class of 27 U.S. Navy guided missile cruisers to carry to sea the most sophisticated air defense system in the world today, the AEGIS Combat System. Talk about a power rush.

And then some luckless Yorktown crewman mistakenly enters a zero into the data field of an application. Oops. The ship's computer system proceeds to divide another quantity by that zero, causing a buffer overflow, which then stupendously propagates throughout all of the ship's systems and --- chugga-chugga-poof! Egg drips off numerous command rank faces as the super high tech Yorktown is suddenly dead in the water for more than two hours. Some Navy brass said with an amazingly straight face that this soggy debacle was just an "engineering local area network casualty."

Lieutenant Commander Roderick Fraser, the chief engineer on board the ship at the time of the incident, said the fault was with certain applications developed by CAE Electronics in Leesburg, VA. He then added that Windows NT, which this many megabuck vessel was running instead of the customary special purpose militarized code, had nothing to do with what happened. Huh? The USN bet the national defense farm on the bug-infested, more security holes than Swiss cheese, NT? Hey, maybe someone simply forgot to download the latest NT service pack. Next time around, they are probably better off using Windows XP, which Big Bill claims will be far better than NT/Win2000 for playing (war) games.

The Navy pulled this incredible NT stunt under the guise of its "Smart Ship" program, which had the goal of slashing manning costs aboard the 27 Ticonderoga class war ships by using commercial off the shelf (COTS) systems, like NT. Presumably, that manpower estimate didn't take into account the 2,000 guys in rowboats needed to tow the huge dead ship to shore. And this is the same Aegis system that Taiwan lusts for? Maybe it's not too long a row from Taipei to China.

Meanwhile, reports continued to pile up, repeatedly citing many fundamental problems in getting the Ticonderoga systems to work right. Flash forward to January 2001, and the USN finally says it is "substantially downscaling" its much ballyhooed Smart Ship program. But China should insist that Taiwan gets the MS NT version of the Aegis Smart Ship and thus get a good belly laugh the next time an NT/DoS attack sweeps the planet and leaves the Taiwanese scrambling for the oars.

Navy personnel already work under often incredibly stressful and dangerous conditions. So you have to wonder what idiot figured that maybe it wasn't hair raising enough and decided to run these fiendishly complex defense systems under Windows. My guess is that this DOD yahoo is now running Star Wars, as it makes perfect sense that with this kind of decision making track record, this is exactly where he should end up. After all, Star Wars has already gone through some $60 billion with almost nothing to show for it except numerous well-publicized failures. To me, that sounds exactly like the typical Windows operating system development process up in Redmond WA. Clearly, Star Wars running under Windows is a bread and butter match made in pork barrel heaven.

Bush is intent on building his mad cap missile defense system, even though it means draining money away from such budgetary items as increased military pay, training, maintenance, repairs, upgrades and all that other nonessential defense stuff. Of course, Geo. W. will roundly insist that his massive tax cuts are going to so stimulate the economy that the surplus will probably double in the next ten years, so why worry about some piddling budget money?

Meanwhile, those pesky North Koreans are probably busily trying to figure out how to make backpack nukes, so all it will take is one happy Kodak moment suicide bomber tourist to obliterate NYC. But at least the NT-skies will be safe, which, of course, will make everyone feel very secure and very happy.

--Francis Vale, Copyright 2001, All Rights Reserved

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