While one arm of the US government continues to bear down legally on Microsoft, another - the US Navy - looks more Windows-aholic day by day. Following on the Win2k carrier deal and Microsoft's prominent position in the $9 billion EDS Navy contract, it now emerges that Microsoft will be participating in development of the Navy's next generation Zumwalt class DD21 land attack destroyer.
The surprisingly large number of former and current US Navy Register readers will no doubt fill us in on what the blazes a land attack destroyer is. However, we deduce it's not one of the ones that escorts merchant ships and chases submarines, but something that chucks shedloads of ordnance at menaces to democracy rash enough to hang around near coasts. It will, it says here, "dominate the littoral battlespace."
Microsoft's precise role in DD21 development gives us an opportunity to deal with something our Navy contacts have been hassling us about - the weapons control issue. Put simply, ask yourself what you think of Microsoft software handling weapons systems (our contacts, none of whom seems to be in Navy procurement, say run and hide).
According to today's announcement, Microsoft Federal Systems has joined the "DD21 Blue Team,"* which is doing the development, and which yike, has its own Web site. The team is led by a General Dynamics company, Bath Iron Works and Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems, Lockheed Martin being the MS buddy that got Redmond the CVN77 carrier gig. Microsoft's role in the Blue Team, according to the release, is somewhat vague: "Microsoft will provide solutions based on leading commercial software technologies, research and development, and future information technology trends. Microsoft will work with the Blue Team to identify best practices in software development and military solutions to support the ship's information infrastructure. Additionally, Microsoft Consulting Services will support the Blue Team with specific DD 21 solutions as well as technology deployment and knowledge transfer."
No further data on Microsoft's contributions to "military solutions to support the ship's information infrastructure," and nothing on "specific DD 21 solutions."
Now, our Navy readers keep telling us there's no way Microsoft has the capability to do weapons control, we're extremely inclined to agree with them, and there's nothing in the above, which is the best we've got for a mission statement, that commits Microsoft to trying. But when the CVN77 deal was announced Microsoft's quotes certainly pointed in that direction and - in the immortal words of a former president who's about to have a carrier named after him, 'there you go again.'
"Our addition to the DD 21 Blue Team validates the paradigm shift Microsoft has undergone over the last two years," said Willie Williamson, Programs Director, Microsoft Federal. "We now actively participate in complex solutions for many of the various military functions, including weapons systems and command and control" (our emphasis).
Do you spot the join? Microsoft is getting into the military big-time on the basis that it can do commodity software solutions and infrastructures. You can disagree about Microsoft being the right solution, but anything commodity and PC has got to be substantially cheaper than the bespoke and big iron systems the military has bought in the past. Microsoft is however characteristically leveraging this. It's involved in "complex solutions" including "weaponds systems and command and control," but not necessarily in this particular gig. So, Mr Williamson, would you care to tell us where?
Not, as far as we can see (despite MS suggestions to the contrary) on the CVN77. The latest release says that on that project Microsoft will "improve interoperability among sensors, advanced communications systems, high-performance ship network connectivity, aircraft control systems, and other electronics on the ship." Read that fast and you get the impression Microsoft is doing aircraft control systems. But read it again, slowly, and it gets a lot fuzzier, doesn't it?
* The full membership of the Blue Team is too dull for us to bother about, but we're impressed by the presence of the University of Maine, and were initially boggled by that of L3 Communications, apparently no relation to the Level 3 that hosts The Register. Stop reading now, if you don't care about the rest of them: Northrop Grumman, SAIC, L3 Communications, Gibbs & Cox, United Defense LP, Solipsys, Computer Sciences Corporation, Micro Analysis & Design Inc., Aptima, Booz Allen Hamilton, Fire Risk Management, Hopeman Brothers, Metron, Sikorsky, Sippican, and the University of Maine. Involved in some obscure and less direct fashion are IBM; Cisco; Rational Software; Aramark; and Parametric Technology. ®