Despite what you may have read, the Royal Navy's new flagship doesn't run Windows XP

Image via Royal Navy

This week, the new flagship of the UK's Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, began its first sea trials. The mighty aircraft carrier - the first of its class, and the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy - is expected to enter service in 2020, taking over from helicopter carrier HMS Ocean as the fleet flagship.

But the Queen Elizabeth's first operations at sea were slightly overshadowed by numerous media reports claiming that the vessel's computer systems run the obsolete Windows XP, calling into question the wisdom of that decision, and raising concerns over the security of the new carrier. Some even reported that the ship is vulnerable to cyberattacks as a result.

Much of the Royal Navy fleet uses a specialized, hardened version of Windows 2000, dubbed 'Windows for Warships'. In that context, claims that the Queen Elizabeth uses Windows XP appeared credible, and weren't refuted by the UK's Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, when he was asked about the ship's use of XP on BBC Radio 4 this week.

But as the UK Defence Journal explained, the Queen Elizabeth does not use Windows XP for its computer systems. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence explicitly confirmed in 2015 that "Windows XP will not be used by any onboard system when the ship becomes operational," adding that "this also applies to HMS Prince of Wales", the second carrier in the Queen Elizabeth class.

Windows XP, Windows 7, and other versions - as well as other operating systems - have been used by contractors installing and testing equipment onboard the new carrier, but none of these will be used when the ship enters full operational service.

In fact, the Queen Elizabeth class uses a proprietary operating system designed by BAE Systems, known as Shared Infrastructure. BAE explained last year:

“They [the Queen Elizabeth class] will also be the first ships to be built with a BAE Systems designed, new state-of-the-art operating system called Shared Infrastructure, which will be rolled out across the Royal Navy’s surface fleet over the next ten years. Shared Infrastructure revolutionises the way ships operate by using virtual technologies to host and integrate the sensors, weapons and management systems that complex warships require. By replacing multiple large consoles dedicated to specific tasks with a single hardware solution, the amount of spares which are required to be carried onboard is reduced, significantly decreasing through-life costs.”

Shared Infrastructure is already in use onboard HMS Ocean, and is being installed on amphibious transport dock HMS Albion, with plans to add it to Albion's sister ship, HMS Bulwark. Shared Infrastructure is also being deployed on the Royal Navy's Type 23 frigates, along with other vessels in the fleet, and will eventually be built into the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

Windows for Warships will live on, for now, on some operational vessels in the Royal Navy. But when HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service in the next few years, it won't rely on Windows at all.

Source: UK Defence Journal

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