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Britain’s missile-carrying war submarines run on Windows XP


A Vanguard-class submarine at Faslane (via Wikimedia)

Don’t panic but your home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the UK’s military submarines.

Britain’s Vanguard-class, missile-carrying submarines use a variant of Windows XP as their primary operating system.

The revelation comes courtesy of a Guardian article examining proposals for the Trident nuclear submarines and the future of cyber warfare.

The article discusses criticisms levied against the Royal Navy in regards to Trident, stating: “Critics point in particular to the Royal Navy’s decision to install a variant of Windows XP as the operating system on its missile-carrying Vanguard-class submarines.”

It was cheaper than the alternatives,” writes journalist Julian Borger, “but Windows for Submarines, as it is called, is also more vulnerable to malware as it comes off-the-shelf.”

Borger continues: “This also means there are more bugs in circulation that could affect it, and every time a submarine comes to port and gets a software patch, it is newly vulnerable.”

Windows XP was first released to manufacturing on August 23, 2001, and released for retail sale on October 25 that same year.

windows xpMicrosoft Windows XP

However, development of the software actually began in the late 1990s under the codename “Neptune” – Roman god of the sea. Maybe that explains the Royal Navy’s decision to adopt the software.

According to the article, the Ministry of Defence insists that Trident “remains safe and secure”, stating:

“Submarines operating in isolation by design, and this contributes to their cyber resilience. We take our responsibility to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent extremely seriously and continually assess the capability of our submarines to ensure their operational effectiveness, including against threats from cyber and unmanned vehicles.”

The latest version of Microsoft's operating system is Windows 10, which was officially unveiled in September 2014. However, its consumer release didn't take place until July 29, 2015.

Related: Windows 10 vs Windows 8

Do you think the Royal Navy should finally take the leap to Windows 10? Let us know in the comments.


January 18, 2016, 4:45 pm

So when the sub locks-up, do they have to DOS (re) Boot it?

So how many times has the sub blue screened?

Can the sailors still leave at the end of the day while the sub is downloading updates?



January 18, 2016, 5:15 pm

Not just used on the Trident subs either. XP is also used on the BRAND NEW Queen Elizabeth! As you can see here.. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/u...

Owen Hamilton

January 19, 2016, 7:29 am

Not as bad as the French Air Traffic Control using Windows 3.1!


January 19, 2016, 4:32 pm

It's an Embedded OS like on POS Systems. Perfectly safe.

Sam Clarke

May 14, 2017, 1:48 am

Lol no it's not. Just because it's embedded doesn't mean it's safe. I'd assume they are using some form of application whitelisting though

Kai Middleton

May 14, 2017, 11:16 pm

Any version of Windows on a Nuclear Submarine. What could possibly go wrong ...

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