Blue screen of death

The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Yorktown was the testbed for the Smart Ship program, using computers to reduce the number of crewmen needed. Problem was, they picked Windows NT to run those computers. In September 1997, a crewman accidentally entered a zero in a data field, causing a divide by zero error and crashing the whole network of 27 computers. The ship was dead in the water for 2 hours and 45 minutes. There are conflicting reports about the Yorktown having to be towed back to port, but it still showed the vulnerability of the system. You can argue about whether it was the fault of the operating system or the programmers, but to me, it points out the lack of software testing prior to sea trial.

While researching this, I was saddened to find out that the Yorktown had been decommissioned in 2004 and is being dismantled, along with her sister ships, Vincennes and Thomas S. Gates. Twenty years of service doesn’t seem all that long, especially if we are still using the Aegis system. Readers, your thoughts?

17 thoughts on “Blue screen of death”

  1. YORKTOWN was indeed towed back to port at least once, but it wasn’t from any great distance. I don’t remember the full details – the story was related to me in YORKTOWN’s CIC by one of the OS’s that was there when it happened, and the story was given to me … 12 years ago now? 13 years? IIRC she was still in the channel.

  2. Destroyer class ships have never been built all that heavy, and the Ticonderoga Class were really just over sized destroyers, nit really cruisers. Many WW2 Destroyers were still in service when I was in during the period ’72-’74. I don’t think the Sumners (also known as Gehrings) were completely retired until sometime around ’80. Courtney was a DE commissioned a bit before I was born in ’54, and was one of the last three Dealeys still active and was decommed in Dec ’73. Sumners were still pushing water, but they had been FRAMed to save money because of the fiscal pressures caused by Vietnam. I think the last of the WW2 Cruisers were also Decommed in the 70s. Some were kept in mothballs, such as Salem (the Newport News which had one of its 8″ guns wrecked while on the gun line off Vietnam was a Salem) which was an all gun Cruiser. Many, like Albany, a heavy cruiser converted to take Talos missles (as I recall), was 2nd fleet flag ship when I got out, but they were on their last legs nearly 30 years from their construction simply because their engineering plants were so old and inefficient, not because of structural problems. California, and a couple others, were nukes, but they didn’t last because they were just large Destroyers. Destroyers simply don’t last as we ask too much of them, and build them too lightly.

    Anywayz, Destroyer/Frigate class designs are only built to stand up to sea duty for about 20 years. because they are not built as well as the junior capital ships, and Cruisers were capital ships in WW2, they simply don’t stand up a well.

    1. QM, We retired McInerny last year…the second oldest FFG. She was 30 years old and change and I can tell you from having crawled every tank and bilge doing inspections that she was in sound shape. What killed the Figs was removing the missle and never upgrading like the Australians did. Hell, they stuck a damn 8 cell VLS with quad ESSM packs in there!!!
      What killed the first four CGs was those double arm launchers. The idea was floated to install the VLS but when they got around to counting al the beans they realized how much money it was going to cost. And there were those nice shiny LCS’s getting ready to launch and we could use that money to fund…. (hawk, spit)

    2. Byron, I’m giving the Navy excuse for it. That really is what I was told by someone in BuShips. It may not be called BuShips anymore.

      I will say that many of the DE/Frigates had structural problems while I was in. Courtney, for example, was decommed because the keel was buckling. Some of what you’ve seen I have no doubt were in good condition, but I think Big Navy asks for a design life of about 20 years and tends to act based on that.

  3. Aegis, Schmaegis. We’ll just strap a big missile and radar package on LCS and call it good…. It is the new, “Air-Sea Battle, blue-water-capable Littoral Combat Ship (irony intentional)” that the USN will be unveiling next week. Looks a lot like a light cruiser.

  4. I served as a firecontrolman on USS Vicksburg in the ’90s, and they are talking about decommissioning her already. It’s a shame if you ask me.

    Look at the disposition of the Spruance class if you want to be even more depressed. A couple of them didn’t even make it to 20 years. Seems like a versatile hull design with room for modernization. I don’t know why they chose to sink 25 (of 31) of them rather than mothball.

    Virginia class cruisers decomm’d early too. USS Texas was only in commission around 15 years, but those were nuclear powered and lacked VLS. With the cold war ending it would have been a tough sell to upgrade them.

  5. The Spruances, Kidds, and Ticos disposed of had years of life left in them. Naval Sea Systems Command (aka NAVSEA; the successor to BuShips) had a plan in hand to maintain them.

    The official reason was the tyranny of maintenance money and manning issues. A better reason is incompetence at NAVSEA and Op-03. It’s a strategic blunder of the first water. We took well-broken in ships, sank them to prevent second thoughts, and got vaporware (DDG-1000) and mal-ware LCS. It’s well known that upgrades and maintenance are cheaper than new builds, up to a point of very old systems. Given the commonality of engineering plants and combat systems, the ships above were still a bargain. FWIW, the Kidds are in the service of Taiwan today, so they missed being sunk for dubious warhead vs. ships sinking data.

    I believe the root cause is in Congress, with active selection of poor flag officers, undue influence of contractors vice war fighters, congressional staffers with ill will at heart, and poor Congressional Relations compared with the Air Force. It didn’t help that we have not been in sustained combat with a near-peer Navy for 60 years. Combat has a way of clarifying design, force level, and sustainability issues.

    The early Burkes are being put out to pasture as we speak. The world’s oceans are the same size, but our forces keep getting smaller. UAV’s are not an adequate substitute for power projection by warships, IMHO.

    1. I had thought BuShips had changed its name, but didn’t know what the new name was.

      LCS=Malware is a good one. Frankly, taking the Frigates out of the water was a bad move, and canning the early Burkes is a bad move. Doing away with the Sprucans was a bad move. Some one really means us ill, and unfortunately the Fox is in the hen house.

  6. The SpruCans, Kidds and Flight I Ticos all needed a mid-life upgrade or a SLEP. But they were still very viable ships. But the Navy not only decommed them, they sank as many as they could. My suspicion is that they sank them precisely so they could 1. Save money on maintenance and 2. Plead the case for more ships, primarily Burkes. Do you really think we’d have 61 Burkes if the Spruances were still in the fleet?

    Having said that, it was a pretty foolish decision. They could have kept a larger number of hulls in the fleet while building up the Burke numbers. Alternatively, they could have at least offered the Spruances to friendly nations. Brazil or some other countries might have liked to have a couple.

    While the historical lifespan of most escort vessels was figured at 20 years (especially ships like the Dealeys and other early ocean escorts) there was no great barrier to maintaining the Spru/Kidd/Tico family to 25 or even 30 years. Sure, it costs a bit more in the out years, but not that much.

    On the other hand, Byron and CDR Sal and so many other professional sailor/ship maintenance types have shown where the “lean manning” and diversity trained crews are incapable of conducting the critical day to day maintenance that would allow those ships to last that long.

    Does anyone think LCS-1 and 2 are gonna make it through their projected 25 year life cycle without massive overhauls?

    1. Actually, I think LCS is gonna go down with all hands in the first firefight or good storm they blunder into…

  7. +1 on the Ticos being mis-labeled destroyers. The big superstructures holding the SPY-1 radars had been plopped down on the Sprue-can’s hull, which I’m told caused structural issues. They were designated as “cruisers” because their job was area air-defense, not chasing subs.

    1. They used to mount SONAR on light Cruisers. Springfield was the 6th fleet flagship when I was on Courtney and it played ASW games. It kept forced one Soviet Diesel-Electric boat to surface while a friend was aboard her.

      I admit a real cruiser is not the best ASW platform, but a light Cruiser was really just an over sized Destroyer with 6″ rather than 5″ guns. The Ticos fell into that category.

  8. Hate to say it cause their errors belong to us but any Navy that would build a ship that relied that heavily on a computer system deserves massive amounts of disdain. It also shows their design team lacked input from those who have actually sailed ships on salt water and had to maintain and repair them.

    Salt water sailing is one of the most corrosive and stressful environments for humans, mechanical structures and electrical/electronic systems the human race has ever faced. (more difficult, over time, than low orbit space) And that does not take into account salt water sailing in a combat environment.

    To place a point source failure on a vessel intended to be utilized in that environment without extensive testing and without designed fail soft systems with human accessible backups is quite simply criminal.

    That it was allowed to progress beyond whatever testing they did do is a testament to the failure of our process of evaluation of proposed weapon systems.

    That it still continues (see the f35c post) indicates a systemic failure in leadership at all levels.

    1. YORKTOWN’s BSOD had little or nothing to do with that. It was a very good concept, and the execution of it – in the end – was spectacular.

      The problem with the initial effort was that Big Blue attempted to do it on the cheap, and YORKTOWN had just come back off a very demanding STANAVFORLANT deployment. Her wiring was in piss-poor condition, having been shaken half to death in a lot of heavy weather. When they went in and just grafted more wiring into a system that wasn’t in great shape to begin with, things went straight to hell and the result wasn’t pretty.

      After they realized where they’d screwed up, they went back and fixed things, and it worked. It worked very well, from what I heard from the guys that sailed her.

      It’s worth noting that if we followed purely your method of development, we’d still be stuck in the days of sail and oar.

  9. One of the lessons that the US Navy learned after the Falklands war was that aluminum burns! DUH!

    The Arleigh Burkes are steel, through and through. This was not the case with the older Spruance class. So, the all-aluminum superstructured Spruances’ had amour belts added to the sides of the CIC area behind the bridge, to improve survivability (and .50 cal resistance). This caused buckling and cracking of the superstructure. I remember standing watch in CIC and being able to see daylight through the cracks! So much for NBC defense!

    On the other hand, the entire class was disposed of much too soon. I believe only the Paul F. Foster is still afloat, being used as a test bed.

    So much for the 600, 500, 400, 300, 200+ ship Navy!

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