Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Software Government Politics

U.S. Refuses to Hand Over Fighter Source Code to UK 558

Posted by Zonk
from the should-have-read-the-EULA-first dept.
orbitalia writes "The UK is heavily involved in the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter program) but has recently considered abandoning the project because the US refuses to share the source code. The UK had intended to purchase $120 billion dollars worth of aircraft to operate on two new aircraft carriers, but is now seriously considering Plan 'B'. This is likely to be further investments in the Eurofighter Typhoon project." From the article: "It appeared that Tony Blair and George Bush had solved the impasse in May, when they announced an agreement in principle that the UK would be given access to the classified details on conditions of strict secrecy. The news was widely seen as evidence that the Prime Minister's close alliance with the American President did have benefits for Britain ... 'If the UK does not obtain the assurances it needs from the US then it should not sign the Memorandum of Understanding covering production, sustainment and follow-on development,' the MPs insisted."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

U.S. Refuses to Hand Over Fighter Source Code to UK

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:30PM (#17180932)
    The EuroFighter is a much more advanced fighter anyway. The JSF is the US Military just trying to "Cut Costs" by consolodating which seems to be what most of the military is doing. Pretty soon a tin can will do everything from cook a meal to shoot off a nuke
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...give me the ROFLcopter [rofl.name]!!!
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:36PM (#17180996) Journal
    Why don't they buy the planes anyhow, I am sure they are the best available, then download Rockbox, or whatever the warplane equivalant OSS firmware is.

    If that does't work, there should at least be a LGPL version, right?

    • by Solder Fumes (797270) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @12:09AM (#17181212)
      The UK should just buy the airplanes, and then download a cracked version of the software on Kazaa.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      I know you are joking, but there is a lot of GPL code in military systems.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drxenos (573895)
        Frankly, you don't know what you are talking about. I work for one of the larger contractors. My company has a strict policy against using any open source, not just GNU. They are terrified of the whole SCO thing. They are even sensivitive to the use of GNU tools. I recently had to explain to the higher ups that, just because software is written with EMACS does not force it to be open souce. They were also shocked when I told them that the compiler we use--the one that comes with VxWorks--is GCC, and i
    • by Forbman (794277) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @03:28AM (#17182338)
      A big part of it is that Britain has some of its own rather useful and effective munitions that it produces that it would probably like to use with it, as well as to do its own avionics modifications, etc., and probably a bit of a desire to not totally be dependent on Lockmart technicians for doing everything with the plane.

      It is a bit of a "keep our own defense industries viable", which comes down to a technology and job protection program (and probably much more important in British politics than even in the US).

      The sad part of it is that Britain is probably the US' last firm ally in the world right now. With Britain wanting to upgrade its nuclear missile submarine program in a few years, what are they going to do then if we are still being so schizoid, buy their nukes from France? I bet that Britain shared the World's Deadliest Joke with the US. Only it wouldn't have worked on people here who would have worked on it (hence, safe for US to translate it into other languages), because we have no sense of humor, or at least one that includes wordplay, sarcasm and irony and doesn't include swearing or racial slurs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The sad part of it is that Britain is probably the US' last firm ally in the world right now. With Britain wanting to upgrade its nuclear missile submarine program in a few years, what are they going to do then if we are still being so schizoid, buy their nukes from France?

        I know you are probably joking, but the UK would build its own nuclear warheads - the ones we operate currently are fully built and maintained in the UK, its the missile bodies that are shared with the US for ease of maintenance.

    • by caluml (551744) <slashdot&spamgoeshere,calum,org> on Sunday December 10, 2006 @07:18AM (#17183226) Homepage
      And they could not select the "randomly-kill-frendly-troops" option.
      Still bitter about Iraq 1. We (the UK) lost more troops to "US cowboys" than Iraqis. Bah.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        Sorry, we're still bitter about you burning the White House in the War of 1812
  • Under current rules any British requests for the use of US technology can take 20 days to go through, obviously limiting the usefulness of a jet strike force.

    I am not sure how to interpret this. Does it mean that if the UK request the source code with a license to make changes then they get the code 20 days later and presumably come up with their own version after a year (at best?). Or do they get the code up front with the ability to request a license to deploy modified versions on application?

    The second

  • The UK is not unique (Score:4, Informative)

    by gelfling (6534) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:44PM (#17181048) Homepage Journal
    Every country involved has been told the same thing. And more importantly, all co developers are PROHIBITED from installing their own avionics.
    • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @12:07AM (#17181192)

      I love the dept. line for this one. The UK is reading the "EULA" first, and that's why we're threatening to cancel a multi-billion dollar order.

      After all, would you leave the ability to maintain your air force in the hands of another nation? (And seriously, even if the order goes ahead, would the US seriously expect the UK to honour some contractual agreement not to install working software in its military aircraft?)

      • I love the dept. line for this one. The UK is reading the "EULA" first, and that's why we're threatening to cancel a multi-billion dollar order.
         
        After all, would you leave the ability to maintain your air force in the hands of another nation? (And seriously, even if the order goes ahead, would the US seriously expect the UK to honour some contractual agreement not to install working software in its military aircraft?)

        It's fascinating that you, and Mr. Blair, make a big deal of this - without mentioning that the UK's strategic deterrent is already in the hands of another country. The U.K. is utterly dependent on the U.S. for software and spares for the Trident-II submarines.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ajehals (947354)

          It's fascinating that you, and Mr. Blair, make a big deal of this - without mentioning that the UK's strategic deterrent is already in the hands of another country. The U.K. is utterly dependent on the U.S. for software and spares for the Trident-II submarines.

          Because of course - making the same mistake twice is a good idea.....

        • by anaesthetica (596507) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @02:43AM (#17182150) Homepage Journal

          Agreed. This is, in fact, the whole premise of NATO. By unifying military command structures and forces, the security of every NATO member is linked to one another, and especially linked to the United States. It's already been that way for 50 years (except for France which withdrew under de Gaulle in the 60's).

          One should note that a lot of /.ers are simply making this out to be a U.S. vs. UK thing, but it's more complicated than that. President Bush is fully in favor of giving the UK what it needs in order to certify and fully control the aircraft it purchases. It's principally Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) who has been blocking the source code transfer because of his concerns about "technology transfer." Essentially, this is not a Bush administration problem, but a Congressional problem. Since Hyde is retiring, a will be replaced on January 3rd, at least one roadblock may be cleared up.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Forbman (794277)
          Maybe for the missiles, but not for the subs themselves. But Britain never developed its own sea-launched ballistic missiles independent of the US, unlike France.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by asuffield (111848)
          Trident's a white elephant though - it has never been used and never will be used. It exists for political reasons, not military ones. It's not important in the way that operational aircraft are.
    • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Sunday December 10, 2006 @02:32AM (#17182074) Homepage Journal
      Every country involved has been told the same thing.

      I really don't think this is a matter of mistrust between the US and UK, but rather living by the maxim of James Greer: "The likelihood of a secret's being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people who're in on it."

      While it makes sense to try and plan for any and all future possibilities, it may simply be trying to limit the number of people/groups who have the capability--however small--to leak the secret.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      True, but the UK is meant to be a very close ally of the US, and is a major investor in the project.

      I have to wonder if part of this is that the UK keeps being ignored [bbc.co.uk] in the "special relationship".
  • by MrSteveSD (801820) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:59PM (#17181144)
    The US government is really just too embarrassed to hand over the source code since it's all in Visual Basic 6.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Don't laugh. I work on a project for the Department of Homeland Security and a lot of the code is Visual Basic.
    • Re:Embarassment (Score:5, Informative)

      by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @01:12AM (#17181606) Homepage
      Yes, it's a funny joke, but JSF is actually written in C++. The coding standards are available on Bjarne Stroustrup's website [att.com].
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by peterpi (585134)
        I see they're confused about the tab key too ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cold fjord (826450)
        Yes, it's a funny joke, but JSF is actually written in C++.

        So the real reason that the US won't force the release of the code is that it doesn't want to be accused of terrorism?

  • All out rejection (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ajehals (947354) <a.halsall@pirateparty.org.uk> on Sunday December 10, 2006 @12:18AM (#17181264) Homepage Journal

    Sadly without this agreement the UK really should simply say no to any involvement, however I would suggest that the UK will still splash out anyway. The entire US/UK Special relationship is pretty much a myth anyway and more to the point it has been regarding foreign policy matters for a long time, placing even more dependence on the US in areas of defence is a bad idea.

    There seems to be (in the UK at least) a memory lapse within political circles, that the US has in the past simply not stood with the UK.

    The Lack of US support during the Falklands war, and outright opposition to the Suez crisis, should show that the UK cannot rely on US military power to support the UK's own operations and aims, and nor should it. The US will always look after itself, it will only take action when it feels its own perceived interests are involved or if there is sufficient domestic political pressure to do so, and the UK really should follow suit. Frankly that is a sensible position for any nation state to take. The UK governments current position of "follow the US's lead wherever it is demanded" is downright treasonous.

    The UK needs to continue to maintain forces, equipment and any other capabilities independently or with allies as long as the UK is capable of maintaining the same, in the absence of their allies. It would be foolhardy to rely on the US (or France/Germany/Italy etc..) for equipment, parts, support, or armaments in the case of war, especially if any of those allies were opposed to the conflict.

    The one thing I do feel that is surprising with this scenario is that the US will happily sell the aircraft to the UK. I would have assumed that any sensitive information about the aircraft would be available from the aircraft itself, which of course presents the question as to whether there are either surprises in the software that would give the US any advantage in the unlikely event that these aircraft were used against them. Although ignoring that (slight conspiracy theory) surely it should also raise questions about the quality of the software.

    Anyway, I see no reason why the UK cannot simply continue to work on its own or with allies who full trust the UK, rather than be treated as an interloper or a poor cousin by the US.

  • Not just source code (Score:5, Informative)

    by bananaendian (928499) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @12:48AM (#17181452) Homepage Journal

    This is not just about source code. In a system like that software, hardware and system integration are inseparable. You either give no information or have to give it all. These are the crown jewels of the platform. Revealing them also reveals any number of critical points for interested adversaries: thrust and manoeuvrability limits, reaction times, counter-measure schemes and logic, EMC-characteristics etc. all of which can be used to find weaknesses and design weapon systems to be more effective against it.

    Also, since the UK is only conributing 10% of the development costs, its no wonder the US isnt keen sharing. Usually with mil-tech you only give a bad, incomplete user manual to the client so he can barely operate the thing and then wait for him to pay more for extra features that are already implemented by disabled in software or simply undocumented. You never ever allow the client to have exact specs, schematics or software which would allow him to reverse-engineer and develop his own extentions and applications to it.

    Here in Finland we bought old C-model F18 Hornets. When the first upgrade cycle came, the US told us of these new fancy secure ground-to-air datalinks and avionics for combat close formation flying they wanted to sell us. We just told them we had developed our own by then, thankyouverymuch. But that was because the platform was getting old and most of the stuff in there was already open knowledge with multiple nations having purchased them years ago. Also with old-gen mil-aircraft there are a lot of avionics standards which were developed and adhered to during the cold-war to easy manufacturing, lower cost and allow inter-service operations. These JSFs will probably have special new-gen custom avionics to do with flight and weapon control, targeting, radar, stealth, communications and electronic warfare that the US definately wants to keep wrappers on.

  • by surfcow (169572) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @01:34AM (#17181752) Homepage
    "... and then all our vipers suddenly when dead, it was like someone threw a switch..."

    I don't blame the brits at all. I certainly wouldn't trust the US military not to make ... contingency plans. Especially the current crop of loonies.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by anaesthetica (596507)
      Up until recently, the DoD still maintained battle plans for a potential war against Britain. The Pentagon games out nearly every scenario they can think of, however, so the fact that they had invasion plans for Britain left-over from WWII and updated once-in-a-while doesn't really mean much. We probably still have invasion plans for Canada left over from 1812--you never know, with those wily Canadians...
      • by sunwukong (412560) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @04:07AM (#17182534)
        We probably still have invasion plans for Canada left over from 1812--you never know, with those wily Canadians...

        Mon dieu! Jacques -- turn this canoe around! The Americans, she is on to us!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cold fjord (826450)
        We probably still have invasion plans for Canada left over from 1812...

        My recollection is that the US dropped all plans for war against Canada in the 1920s or 1930s.

        Up until recently, the DoD still maintained battle plans for a potential war against Britain. ..... so the fact that they had invasion plans for Britain left-over from WWII and updated once-in-a-while doesn't really mean much.

        I would love to see a source on this as I highly doubt that the US has had any actual plans for a war against the UK sin
  • Code (Score:5, Informative)

    by azariah_d (1037924) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @02:50AM (#17182180)
    Aside from any code with the purpose of fascilitating a "shutdown" of the plane, the code for the radar data processing is what the US is most concerned to keep a well guarded secret. Also, 90% of the code for the F22 is written in Ada. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/air craft/f-22-avionics.htm [globalsecurity.org]
  • by tjcrowder (899845) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @04:03AM (#17182518) Homepage

    "One moment, please hold for the Prime Minister"

    (pause)

    "Hello, Mr. Stallman? I understand you have some experience applying political pressure to closed-source vendors, I wonder if..."

  • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @03:54PM (#17186582) Homepage
    So, let me get this right: The US is gonna turn down 120 Billion dollars because they don't want to show their code, to their only remaining supporter?

    That's dummer than Dumbya on a bad day. Scratch that, that's the dumbest shit ever.
  • by UPAAntilles (693635) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:38AM (#17191390)
    Nowadays, half of the cost of developing new aircraft is the software. You'd think the super-advanced F-22 would have required billions of dollars at materials development and design, but no, over half the cost was software alone. So with how much the US has spent on the software, you can see why giving it away for free would bug them.
  • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Monday December 11, 2006 @05:27AM (#17192162) Homepage
    This bullshit is exactly the same in Norway.

    We're planning on renewing our air-force by buying some new figther-planes, and it looks as if Eurofigther, SAS-Gripen and the JSF are the most likely candidates.

    The first suggestion from the US was that we'd not even be allowed to *see* the sourcecode for the JSF under NDA. I think that may have gotten resolved, but being allowed to *change* anything is out of the question.

    It's ridicolous. Why would any sovereign nation accept buying military material where they're *dependant* on a foreign power for even trivial bugfixes ?

You will lose an important disk file.

Working...