Software Safety - Nuclear  

Nuclear Safety

Study Guide

  • Software Reliability in Nuclear weapons.

  • In the technological age, computers are no longer a luxury, they are now an extension of us. We do not doubt the capabilities of the 'computer.' But is this attitude a good thing? 
    Defense against foreign missile attacks has been a subject under debate in the United States since Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative. In the SDI, the USA will construct a sytem whereby incoming nuclear missiles will be intercepted mid-flight by carefully guided US missiles (SDI). The software required to communicate detection of incoming missile tracks, calculate a trajectory for both the incoming and intercepting missiles, and launch, while operating under real-time constraints would have to be very complex. Do we really believe that computers and computerized systems are impenetrable or have we even begun to address these issues? The world is in constant threat of weapons of mass destruction - a nuclear holocaust, amongst the most notable. Is the software on these weapons or control systems risk free. After all, it will take only one software glitch to create a catastrophe - a nuclear war! If risk is a major factor then why not do away with as much software as possible? But wait a minute! Isn't 'computerization' the main reason for our success to defend ourselves or compete as a military power.
    In this chapter, we will investigate all of these issues and try to understand the pros and cons of software reliability in the nuclear missile defense systems and launching of offensive nuclear missiles. In any complex system, the issue of errors and bugs arises. Putting aside the ethical issues regarding nuclear proliferation and systems reacting to and dealing with nuclear weapons, the systems engineer faced with designing or deploying such a missile defense system is placed onto tenuous ethical ground. Any error in the SDI system could not only disturb international relations, but could also cost hundreds of thousands of American citizens their lives. What steps are taken to insure that the software performs flawlessly? What backup measures can legitimately be put in place without invalidating the system?
    • Risks

    • Software used  in the nuclear defense system has to be 100% reliable.
    • Gains

    • Computers provide great benefits? What are some of these advantages?

Index of Topic -Study Guide - Discussion Questions