back to article Royal Navy presses IT Crowd for nuclear missile 'servers'

The Royal Navy has a long history of backfiring recruiting tactics. Back in the days of the press gang, apparently, there were sometimes expensive lawsuits - the impress law only permitted trained sailors to be pressed, not landsmen, and there were other grounds for dispute. On occasion, too, eighteenth-century naval recruiting …


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  1. simon perryman
    Black Helicopters

    I'm not the only one then

    I saw that ad and nearly died laughing.

    Absolute genius. The only way it could have been better would have been to involve the Mac vs PC guys to really show what a laughing stock our forces IT has become.

  2. Stuart

    Really Sorry....

    but....if you open Windows on a submarine wouldn't it flood?

  3. Sam


    Shouldn't you count to 10 before turning it on again?

    Oh, and "Powercycling" sound much posher.

    The fleece thanks, I'm gardening this afternoon.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Reboot Required?

    Good to see they suffer from the continuous OS reboot cycle as well.

    "Lets just switch it off and on again".

    In best Scotty voice:

    "Sorry Capt, canny launch at the minute, Vista's UAC is asking for the password."

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    He's running Windows for Warships.

    Where's the Black Helicopters angle?

  6. Ian Ferguson


    I've always shuddered at that advert. I'm sure he's a lovely guy and everything but frankly I'd hope for somebody a bit more focused in charge of nuke-wielding computers...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have to say I agree - its a terrible advert: are tech people in the navy really so stupid.

    On an unrelated matter - how long before FACT turn up, arrest you and seize your computers for linking to pirated content

  8. TrixyB

    If you pay peanuts....

    You get sea monkeys!


  9. Pete

    As a tactic...

    It seems semi-likely to be successful, even if it doesn't seem quite believable that they did it by design. We twitch at that ad, at the potential risks of hard rebooting nuclear servers. But with that, they'll get more applicants - those applicants being people who want those same nuclear systems at least in competent hands. Amusingly enough, you'll also get people who are perfectly happy working in spaces where you don't have much room to move around.

    Those of us who twitch at the ads but prefer at least having a nanoWales of room around us... will move to Holland.

  10. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Hiding In Full Sight ........ Sub Atomic Force Control.

    "Enemies of the UK take note: our strategic deterrent probably doesn't work any more. ®"


    Have you got a lot to learn about Astute NEUklearer Strategic Deterrence and ITs Key Switches.

    Friends of the UK take not that such Forces are Indomitable. And those are Secrets which you do not Sell but which you just buy into. The Return on the Investment is Quite Literally, beyond your Wildest Dreams.

  11. Mad Mike


    As a responsible employer, presumably the Royal Navy have implemented some software to prevent access to unsuitable websites, such as Websense etc. On attempting to fire the missiles, surely this would therefore come up with 'Inappropriate site blocked - weapons and firearms'?

  12. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    @are tech people in the navy really so stupid

    No, actually, tech people in the navy are pretty smart. In fact, according to a mate of mine who's now ex navy, if you want to be in weapons or engineering you have to hold some sort of PhD in a related field and have an IQ of about 3000 before they even consider you. It's just that once you're in you spend so long on drills and watches and other such crap that your intelligence drops through the floor through lack of sleep, and you end up doing something dozy like giving up a natural defensive position by getting off a ship you've just boarded when an enemy patrol comes along to kidnap you. Or rebooting the main control server on a freakin nuclear sub when it's probably running some unix variant and hasn't actually crashed...

  13. Conrado Buhrer

    You don't need to think...

    They do that for you, and I did laugh. The ad was good... Purpose is not to attract people that would generally never join the force. Its to raise awareness that they need people. I think it accomplishes that and puts a smile on people's faces.

  14. Chris Rowson

    Have you?

    "Hello Royal Navy Tactical Nuclear Command launch line - Darren speaking, have you tried switching it off and on again?"

  15. Alan Paice


    Techies in the Navy are pretty good. I met some on HMS Trafalgar while on an acquaint visit.

    Its just some media type has written them a script that makes them sounds like mongs! How you we sound if we described our jobs from script.

    But saying that the head of the submarine service told us not to bother with university if we was joining as officers.. go figure!

  16. Richard

    Zen master?

    I'm reminded of the classic AI koan:

    A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on. Knight, seeing what the student was doing spoke sternly: "You can not fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong." Knight turned the machine off and on. The machine worked.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Army UAV Video

    On a related subject... the ad for the Army where they are flying a UAV. The UAV seems to be controlled by something looking suspiciously like an Xbox controller!!! Possibly making Meatbag murder more like a video game than ever, or more likely the real controller is classified, but they could have at least mocked something up instead of Xbox controller.

  18. Austin Tayshus

    "bog cleaner"

    that would really need to restore our strategic detergent...

  19. Anonymous Coward

    its not THAT bad

    I mean the tech that was around when all that was installed, its probably just a vic 20 in a bulletproof casing, so swiching like that even without 10 seconds is plenty for the 3.5k of Ram

    it will take another 5 mins to load Blitz tho ;)

  20. Dogbyte

    For older readers...

    This is worthy of a Navy Lark script.

    Mr Phillips: "Left hand down a bit..."

    CPO Pertwee: "Left hand down a bit it is, Sir."

    No 1: "Just switch the weapons system off and on again, Mr Phillips."

    CPO Pertwee: "Not that switch! Everybody down!"

    FX Large explosion followed by falling debris

    Mr Phillips: "Oh lummie."

  21. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    To work in Military IT you need....

    ...a Security Clearance and a Pulse...

    .... the Pulse is optional...

  22. Christian Berger

    Even if it's not a Windows server

    Even if it's not a Windows server or not even anything harddisk or filesystem based, turning it on and off is very bad for the power supply.

  23. Tim Lake

    All the geeks

    Oh yes, all the tech nerds are lauging into their yoghurts about this one. "Look at the stupid navy man, I'm much smarter", yeah just a shame you too much of a coward to risk your life defending your country! I'm pretty sure he isn't just rebooting some vital missile control system, it is probably a windows box they keep running so bored sailors can play hearts while on downtime... Maybe get in some practice on Minesweeper :P

  24. Jim Ned

    George Bush sez....

    "The Brits have NUCULER weapons? This will not stand. Put them on the naughty list with Iran."

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's just a little quip though.. know, a joke?

    They're probably trying to emphasise the lighter 150-men-on-a-boat-with-nothing-to-do-for-six-months "banter" side of things..

    >the potential risks of hard rebooting nuclear servers

    What are those then? Presumably it's a system built with multiple redundancy, if the sub were damaged (in a war for instance) it would be expected that there could be electrical damage and power spikes in any location.

    I don't have audio with me, but from memory they don't even describe what the "server" that they're power cycling is?

  26. Silas

    So if you're a terrorist

    Just get yourself into the Navy - who will no doubt be delighted to have increased their percentage of non-white recruits - and then look for the nicely signed "Server switch", turn it off at the required time, replace with a switch wired the other way round, and wait to be boarded?


  27. James Delaney

    Alright already!

    Its a bloody joke for godsake!

    Does this really warrant a story on El Reg.

    We all see the advert on telly, we all understand it's a tongue-in-cheek IT reference that we as IT guys all relate too - even if we don't think it's a good idea to turn-it-off-and-on-again we still get the joke.

    Can we all move on now?

  28. Nick

    HMS SirGates

    El Reg a bit slow on this one, surely? I've been chortling at this one for a couple of months. Surely a reboot doesn't fix the problem, just resolves the incident? They should be looking at the source code and finding out what went wrong. Lets just hope the firecontrol system doesn't 'lock up' at a critical moment eigh? Either that, or the crew are trained in how to reboot every system safely.

  29. amanfromMars Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Adults Only XXXX

    Here's the Paris Hilton angle on the Submariners Girl in Every Port Advantage ..... Their Speciality and Passion in the Deep C Dive and ITs Driver Performance over the Edge into XXXXStatic Heavenly Space.

    Practice makes IT Perfect too, 42 Sort out the Men on a Mission with Passion from the Boys on a Carrier just Pissin' ..... [against the Wind and Shooting the Breeze].

    Jolly Roger XPertEase is also a Much Appreciated AIdDiscipline in their Stealth Server Training.

    PS.... Special Forces Services are also available for Trap Door/Back Door/Trojan Operations in the Windowsless Environment. Brave Volunteers with an Addiction to Controlled Incitement of Powerful Excitement.

  30. Adrian Waterworth

    Hang on...

    ...the ad doesn't say he's a weapons technician. He describes himself as an "Engineering Technician". What the precise difference might be between those two I don't know, but I'm sure someone more au fait with RN grades/ranks/jobs can tell us.

    As for the switch, it's probably just connected to a little light in the captain's cabin to tell him that dinner's ready or something...

    Drink up me hearties, yo ho!

  31. Anonymous Coward


    What a nice little stab and pop-culture IT geekery references...

    ...and at the same time showing them as the smug 'tards they are. Wonderful. Laughed so hard I almost shat me'self.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Hiding In Full Sight ........ Sub Atomic Force Control.

    Come on, amanfrommars. Get with the program.

    El Reg was nice enough to give you your VERY OWN ICON.

    Don't you know how special that is? None of us poor schlubs has one.

    At least use the blasted thing. It's sitting there, looking all lonely.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    you should be...

    my company supplies the RN...

    we're in the process of quoting them for some "new" kit...

    Sun boxes THAT old the weights and dimensions are printed on the box in lb's and ft...

  34. Anonymous Coward

    @all the arrogant IT ppl

    A key requirement of many military systems is that they can be operated by non-IT specialists - this means they have to be built to support a hard reset, and still work in order to protect the lives of the sailors on board (among others). Think: At least triple redundancy, duplicate software written by different companies to prevent a single point of failure........ you get the idea.

    Go back to resetting passwords and lording it over lusers

  35. Sceptical Bastard

    Ee by gum

    What, no reset button? ;)

  36. Anonymous Coward

    And if that dosn't work...

    Are you sure it's plugged in?

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accidents Happen...

    I've got to say, on this one the 'amanfromMars' reply is actually quite good (comparitive to a lot of its others). It might just be random luck this time, presuming its a machine generated reply, or perhaps the system is getting smarter?

    I wonder if its tied to something like WordNet or if its learning / being tweaked to choose better N-grams (perhaps both?).

    I've noticed It does seem to be adjusting the reply size based on the size of other comments. That might be because it usually chooses to quote and reply to a comment -as well as a sentance phrase from the originnal story - in which case comment pages with lots of large comments and/or a large story increase the likelihood of a larger reply, but it could be doing something more clever.

    Bootnote: For anyone interested in this kind of stuff the book "Speech and Language Processing" by Jurafsky, D. & Martin, J. (ISBN: 0-13-095069-6) is a good text on the subject.

  38. Nano nano

    The technical term ...

    ... is "software rejuvenation" ...

    see reference here:,1000000308,2090103,00.htm


  39. Matthew

    RE: @all the arrogant IT ppl

    Non IT people read this site??

    Its just a joke...

  40. jolly
    Paris Hilton

    "Keeping busy ging?" - tee hee

    Can't believe noone's commented on the fact that the bloke he calls "ging" in the ad isn't actually ginger. Ah how I laughed. Reminds me of that bloke in ZZ top called "beard" who doesn't actually have a beard. You couldn't make it up! <sigh>

  41. Hedley Phillips

    I liked the advert.

    Tongue in cheek, made me smile.

    And obviously that switch is not a server reset as it has no guard or flip top to it. No 'triple redundancy belt and braces navy' would have an important switch where it could be knocked by someone running through a passageway in an emergency.

    Like Adrian said, it is probably a light switch.

    Surprised so many of the so called IT experts here didn't spot that one.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Army UAV Video

    "Possibly making Meatbag murder more like a video game than ever, or more likely the real controller is classified, but they could have at least mocked something up instead of Xbox controller."

    There's nothing classified, they actually used X-Box controllers. Why bother creating something new when you already have an interface that most of your soldiers are very familiar with and is ergonomically designed for precisely the task you have in mind?

  43. Ross Ryles


    Hasn't this advert been running for many weeks now? How is this news? I could understand if it was a Friday and you were rightly spending the afternoon in the pub.

  44. g e

    Bust deterrent

    I *heard* that we can't launch nukes without the agreement/compliance of the septics who have some kind of encryption key/auth key required to arm the warheads anyway. Without that the nukes are just a hightech brick with a big engine.

    Anyone else heard of this or is it total crap?

  45. Michael Compton

    re: @all the arrogant IT ppl & All the geeks

    We as tax paying citizens pay the wages and buy the kit so I feel we are in a good position to say what we want about the apparatus of Diplomacy by other means.

    'Courage to Defend their country....' From what, Osama and his cronies or the drugs trade maybe. Last time I checked Britain was not directly threatened for the last 60 years.

    If we stopped sending these guys round the world killing it would be a damn sight cheaper, also a nuclear deterrent only works when u actually have someone to deter, last I checked there was no one, and anyone that was likely to could crush our armed forces quite easily with conventional means, thinking China here.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    meatbag is murder?

    ""Possibly making Meatbag murder"

    surely that should be meatbag extermination. murder implies that the machines beleive killing meatbags is wrong whereas we all know the sole purpose of machines is to oust the meatbags from power.

    speaking of which where's the rotm icon?

  47. Gav

    What a weak story

    If the advert had shown the vessel's head cook, would The Register be claiming British nukes ran on mash potatoes? Cos obviously, if you work on a boat with nuclear warheads everything you do must be directly related to their operation.

  48. Anonymous Coward


    Tiscali tech support must be kicking themselves for letter such an expert escape them.

  49. laird cummings

    @Tim Lake, Adrian Waterworth


    Some of us geeks *did* serve, and know of what we speak from both sides. In addition, some of us geeks have also spent some time Recruiting, too. The advert is a marketing (read: Idiot Factory) creation, and should not be taken as gospel for routine operations. That said, it's pretty damned amusing, in a frightening way.


    Actually, the difference between an Engineering Tech and a Weapons Tech is substantial and significant. Also, sub-specialties withing each rating are important too, and were not mentioned. There's a big difference, for instance, between a Crypto Tech (Maintenance) and a Crypto Tech (Interpreter), yet both are Crypto Techs (US Navy usage).

    s/ former PO1/SS (nuc)

  50. Dom

    UK control.

    Warheads are designed and built in the UK. Missiles are leased from the Yanks. The official line is that the independent deterrent is just that. And the whole point of sub-based nukes is to be able to fry the enemy *after* your entire land-based comms structure has been wiped out.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder...

    ...if that 89 pence toggle switch from Maplin is a 16A or a 32A one?

  52. heystoopid

    I hear

    I hear that there are plenty of vacancies on the HMS Nottingham for all sailors handy with a bucket or two for use when they sail off to the islands of Oz for visits !

  53. Dave Bell

    You know how old the system really is?

    The last I heard, the computer systems running the missiles predated the IBM PC.

  54. This post has been deleted by its author

  55. Bloody_Yank

    Worst part of the job ...

    Fixing the captains iPod for the 15th f'ing time after he has "lost his favorite play list"

    "yes sir no problem"

    "Oh yes sir that bloody iTunes is real bugger !"

    "yes sir this happens to everyone .................

  56. paul clarke

    You think this is bad?

    The "Ordnance Corps" used a system called COFFER. The "Server" was a two "strong" man lift. Never worked in anything over 20 degrees without the sides off and desk fans blowing into it. Used to fix it by "Power Cycling" Now if you feel that is ok, the PSU for this device was also a two "very stong" man lift.

    It was the biggest pile of junk EVER!! And this was designed to work in the field from the back of a truck. Tapes were used to transfer orders placed while in the field unless you managed to "Steal" some comms and then you could use the 3300bps Modems.

    Oh and they produced more paper records than Andrex produce bog rolls.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    My memory of the last line was "ooh. naasty."?

    OT. I remember when the Navy Lark was delayed owing to some stuff about the President of the US of A being pumped full of lead. <wipes dribble off waistcoat />

    And can we have an I-remember-when-it-was-fields-round-here icon?

    The tweed, and redirect me to the saga over 50s site, please.

  58. Anonymous Coward

    On-off-on ?

    Its not a big deal to say they can perform a hard reset if the unit fails. You don't have time to fanny around with problem determination, its much more important you can reset it to the known default start-up state and carry on. Much quicker and less risky. This is not unusual on bespoke military hardware.

    What I really want to know is how they got an SC'd film crew onto that nuclear submarine for a 6 month tour. </gimp>

  59. Mark Menzies

    @ Michael Compton

    As an ex serving member of HM Forces, please direct your negative comments to those that make war, not the few that end up fighting it.

    Its muppets like you, with an obvious misunderstanding of the issue and lack of comprehension of what these guys do that force a response from someone like me.

    Please give these guys the respect they deserve.....

    @ the movie tho, I don't see what was funny, it seemed pretty realistic to me :D

  60. Smiler

    re: @all the arrogant IT ppl & All the geeks

    I think the target of the criticism is maybe the people who look over the forces, and their understanding of how things *really* work.

    Not that I'm suggesting we'd ever send the army into combat without armour and guns that don't fire straight, or the RAF up in helicopters that fall out of the sky.

    On a more light-hearted note, I did watch the classic "we don't know if they'll work, they've never been used..." line in Yes Prime Minister the other night.

    Also containing the classic analysis of the nuclear deterrent....

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: sending these guys round the world killing

    Even Mad Tony didn't have the balls to send a Vanguard class sub "round the world killing", now that would be a mess..

  62. pctechxp

    Old news

    This has been running on the TV for ages, don't reg hacks ever switch from PC to TV?

  63. Alex Barwick


    Bogs were known as the heads when I was in the andrew. Has it changed so much since I left, by the way how is Lord Nelson God bless him

  64. Morely Dotes

    Not to worry.

    The switch is made by Lucas.

  65. Frantisek Janak
    Thumb Up


    Hey, I think it's really inspiring ad, the comedy aspect will keep it remembered and discussed...

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