back to article Talk about a control plane... US Air Force says upcoming B-21 stealth bomber will use Kubernetes

An assistant secretary of the United States Air Force appears to have revealed that its forthcoming B-21 stealth bomber will use container-orchestration tool Kubernetes. The B-21 is expected to fly in 2025 and to have intercontinental range and nuke capability, making it a significant strike weapon. It's touted as a likely …

  1. jpo234

    > As the internet giant is still big on Kubernetes, might Chocolate Factory staff – or the wider Kubernetes community now that it is open source – make their displeasure known?

    Why? Linux or Android runs a lot of military stuff, how is this different? Have a look at ATAK, the Android Tactical Assault Kit.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Or we can discuss the fact their whole business is built on an ARPA/DARPA project.... even computers were first a military tool. And how many of the universities they attended got funded as well? "Gimme the money, just don't tell me where they are from"?

      But we are talking about people who believe that profiling users and exploiting them is ethical... at least when you design and build a bomber you know it is designed to kill people - you could just hope it will be used when there's no other way to defend you.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Bombers for defence? That's unusual.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Not really.

          Imagine that back in the times that the prevailing weapon combination was the sword and shield that somebody had suggested that because their military was only a defense force they'd only equip them with shields and armour, but weren't equipping them with swords or javelins because those were offensive weapons. Yes, it would have been obviously stupid, but let's consider why.

          The meaning behind the saying "the best form of defense is attack" that the mere possibility of attack forces the opponent to dedicate significant attention to fortifications (in ancient times castles and strongholds, in more modern times radar installations etc) and then troops to garrison these facilities against attack, even if they are attacking you. Having to guard against an attack means that only a fraction of the total possible force can in actual practice actually be deployed to an attack.

          If your potential opponents know that your troops couldn't hurt theirs then it'd mean that they would reduce the amount spent on fortifications (why bother?) it'd also reduce the amount spent on good armour (well, if they don't have swords then leather armour is going to be just as effective as metal armour, if you bother armoring your troops at all) and you'd make more swords, maces, spears and then hire more people for your military with the savings. And you can just buy ladders to swarm up the walls of the opponents fortifications, since your not going to have to worry about javelins getting thrown at your attackers and therefore you won't need siege artillery with longer ranges than their personal infantry weapons.

          On a more political level of choosing to go to war, you know that your not going to get counter attacked, and that nobody is going to go around burning your farms, warehouses and industry so the risks to the politicians getting kicked out of power (either by being voted out, or strung up by an outraged mob) are relatively lower than an opponent that might hit back. The chances of going to war therefore rise.

          In modern terms, flapping about stealth bombers means that your opponent spends more on fixed defences such as radar installations, bomb proofing things in case the bomber gets through and then building spare installations in case one gets blown up.

          1. ciaran

            Works the other way too

            Russia invested heavily in SAM systems. You could argue that the US has wasted a ton of mony building airplanes able to operate in spaced defended by S-400 missile systems.

            If you're only protecting the airspace over your home country you don't need stealth,

            1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

              Re: Works the other way too

              While not suggesting anyone intends to do this, an S-400 system in Cuba, could, I believe, engage targets (including military aircraft or airliners) operating over Florida (as an example).

              Protecting the airspace over your home country might mean attacking targets outside of your home country, and might mean attacking advanced SAM systems, where stealth is potentially valuable.

            2. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: Works the other way too

              Yes. Each picks a technology that asymmetrically screws with the others arsenal. Refer to The Strategy of Technology by Jeremy Pournelle originally written in the late 1960's.

              Basically, one side builds lots of tanks. The other side builds an the attack helicopter (ah64) and plane (a10) which obsoletes every one of those tanks on the attack unless you control the sky. Since the soviets didn't have any realistic chance of controlling the sky, they built a big SAM system to try and deny control of the sky to the opposition which would let their tanks be effective again.

              This is then countered by smarter anti radar missiles, jammers and stealth aircraft and so things keep going until one side or the other gives up.

            3. LDS Silver badge

              "If you're only protecting the airspace over your home country you don't need stealth"

              Why not? Whatever gives you an advantage against an enemy is useful. Being harder to detect and hit makes the job of gaining superiority in your airspace harder as well.

            4. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Works the other way too

              "If you're only protecting the airspace over your home country you don't need stealth,"

              Up to the point where an enemy establishes a beachhead, installs AA and takes away the airspace.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Bombers for defence? That's unusual.

          As in Lancasters dropping Tallboy bombs on the V2 launch site at La Coupole?

          What do you think the best way to defend against suborbital ballistic missiles travelling at over 3000mph during WW2 would be?

          Bomb their launch site or put up an umbrella?

          1. The Sprocket
  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    I wonder

    ... what will that bomber do when a bunch of critical processes get evicted due to too much disk space taken up by logs. And the logs immediately deleted, as the pods are being destroyed. Don't get me wrong, Kubernetes is very useful for lots of different cases, but critical software that can result in people dying when gone wrong is probably not one of them.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: I wonder

      >>>software that can result in people dying when gone wrong <<<

      And when the software works perfectly in an intercontinental nuclear bomber?

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        Software? What about hardware?

        I think that's the right icon to choose.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: I wonder

      If you're doing things in k8s and writing logs to PVs (disk) in your pods, you've not quite got to grips with k8s yet.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        One of the typical reasons for excessive disk use in k8s is that there is other log you know nothing about, which is written to some non-standard location. Non-standard because in microservices architecture "there is no need for standards, right?".

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I wonder


          Is that the official abbreviation? I read that as "Kates". I assumed the full word was pronounced koober-nettys, so I assume I was wrong about that at least.

          1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: I wonder

            K8s is official. And it is pronounced "Kay-eight-ess".

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I wonder

              It's like I18n.

              1. stiine Silver badge

                Re: I wonder

                How is that pronounced? I ain't'n?

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: I wonder

              K8s is official. And it is pronounced "Kay-eight-ess".

              Ah, OK then. I grew up with CP/M and MSDOS 8.3 filenames which meant we had to be cr8ive with filename spelling :-)

            3. Efer Brick

              Re: I wonder

              Like "Hobbitsess"

        2. NeilPost Bronze badge

          Re: I wonder

          Just what you want in an Intercontinental Nuclear Capable Strategic Bomber ... is a lack of standards. D’oh.

          The whole thing seems like yesterday’s tool

          In a world of drones and missiles.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: I wonder


            A drone won't carry a nuke halfway across a planet. An ICBM might, but then it'd run the risk of being shot down by Anti Ballistic Missile defenses. This is not a theoretical point, The USA has deployed their own ABM system, other nations have bought or developed their own (ie Israel), South Korea, China and Russia have deployed systems.

            Hence there is a risk that ICBM's may not work, and therefore there is a rise in interest in cruise missiles and bombers to maintain the balance of terror.

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: I wonder

      Let alone discovering that the USAF DevOps have not enabled autoscaling of their clusters ..

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the whole post could be misdirection"

    I hope so. As you say, declaring that a top secret national security weapons platform has its flight software running in the Cloud is an open invitation for state actors to find it. I cannot believe they actually did that.

    Either that or they have a local Kubernetes installation that is not connected to the Internet in any way. That might be possible.

    1. jpo234

      Re: "the whole post could be misdirection"

      > its flight software running in the Cloud

      Nobody said that. Running Kubernetes isn't the same as putting it into the cloud.

      1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

        Re: "the whole post could be misdirection"

        It's a bomber'll be a bit limited if it doesn't get put into (the) cloud(s).


        It's the one with 'The Observers book of aircraft' in the pocket...

    2. NeilPost Bronze badge

      Re: "the whole post could be misdirection"

      Perhaps it has an on-board AWS Outpost actually in a Physical Container :-)

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      "flight software running in the Cloud"

      I thought this was blue-sky research.

      1. Marcelo Rodrigues

        Re: "flight software running in the Cloud"

        "I thought this was blue-sky research."

        I don't see much of a future - it's just a lot of hot air.

    4. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: "the whole post could be misdirection"

      Or maybe the Kubernetes install is just a test environment, to be replaced by something stupidly expensive and stupidly clunky on the production systems. These kinds of announcement always need to be parsed rather carefully.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't read too much into this. The management speak that the military adopt is a great way of obscuring what you're actually talking about. The reference to 'flight-ready hardware' could simply mean that they've got the computer systems working, and to prove it they've run some workloads on it using Kubernetes.

  5. vtcodger Silver badge

    And the B52s?

    The B52s were designed 72 years ago. 1948 to be exact. They work. Reliably. I wouldn't be in a rush to replace them with something dependent on modern software. Arthur Clarke was making a serious point when he wrote "Superiority".

    OTOH, maybe a world without functioning strategic bombers would be a better place.

    1. Klimt's Beast Would

      Re: And the B52s?

      They're getting new engines:

      There's nothing like a quick war to distract attention from problems back home. It'll be over by Christmas, remember!

      1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

        Re: And the B52s?

        Well, maybe.

        Re-engine-ing the B52 fleet seems to be a plan that the US Air Force have regularly, only to drop when they decide to replace the B52 with the (B1) / (B2)/ (B21?).

        The they realise how expensive the B1/B2/(B21?) is, and how gosh-darned-useful those B52's are, so they drop the plan to retire the B52, but don't resurrect the plan for new engines.

        Then, after a suitable period of time, someone suggest a plan to fit new engines to the B52.

        Rinse and repeat.

        1. NeilPost Bronze badge

          Re: And the B52s?

          Rolls-Royce would probably give them a great deal right now.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: And the B52s?

            "Rolls-Royce would probably give them a great deal right now."

            Wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. Those days are gone, as are the people, the tools, the skills, the knowledge. Widebody passenger jets on power by the hour contracts, that's the way of the future (well that's the horse that Derby backed, anyway).

            That, and selling off potentially useful susbsidiaries (and assets) to support a share buyback.

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: And the B52s?

      Their bodies will eventually become too old to fly, and to keep them airworthy becomes more expensive and flight hours will need to be reduced. Moreover, B-52 can fly only when there's no real threat from the sky or ground.

      B-2 an their successors are designed to attack when threats exist, and at larger distances. Otherwise you can just throw missiles, but those are less controllable than a bomber.

      "maybe a world without functioning strategic bombers would be a better place."

      You should also tell Putin and Xi, both working hard to design and deploy new weapons...

      1. hoola Bronze badge

        Re: And the B52s?

        Whereas the replacement will not be too old to fly but will be riddled with software bugs, need rebooting every <n> hours and have incessant software updates, all with their own variety of bugs.

        The F35 isn't exactly a huge advert in this area.

        There really does come a point when you simply cannot replicate good old hardware with software. The trouble is that hardware is not fashionable but having the latest buzzword in software is cool so it has to be better.

    3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: And the B52s?

      The B52s are heading for the Love Shack, of course.

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: And the B52s?

        I thought they were heading to the local Red Lobster.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open-source nuclear warplanes

    How long until we just need a big 3D printer?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

      I expect that 3D printing truly is the manufacturing technology of the distant future. But my guess is that it's going to be many, many decades before you can 3D-print a functioning cell-phone, food processor, or DC-3.

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

        Forget the food processor and the cell-phone. I want another DC-3 to play with.

        I'm really waiting for "X-ray + left-to-right transform + 3-d printer = new perfectly fitted limbs for amputees" to go mainstream. As a side note, I want a two more arms and that Chernobyl joke t-shirt from 30 years ago.

      2. hoagy_ytfc

        Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

        3D printing is already used for a lot of aircraft components.

        Power Metals + printers = aircraft parts

        1. NetBlackOps Bronze badge

          Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

          Powdered metals+3d sintering = aircraft parts.

      3. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

        As somebody doing reenactment, 3D printing in the manufacturing technology of now.

        It's just that you don't 3D print metal.

        Here and now, you 3D print wax. Then you take it to a nice man who buries the wax in sand and leaves a couple of holes, then melts out the wax. Then you pour in molten metal, and after it's cooled and the extra bits are cut off then you have an identical replica of the original in the metal of your choice.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

      A big 3D printer that can assemble plutonium atoms from, say, iron?

      Alchemy coming into its own at last.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

        That's one hell of a hot-end you've got on that printer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Open-source nuclear warplanes

          Oh, you flatterer, you!

  7. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    Raider?! Really!?

    Is it going to be AI-powered and have a glowing red eye in front?

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: Raider?! Really!?

      Nope, will come in golden tinfoil and be renamed "Twix". Two per hangar...

    2. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Raider?! Really!?

      Just keep your head down long enough for the light to return to blue.

  8. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    No way in hell

    is something like K8s running on a strategic bomber. The utility of K8s revolves around dynamically spinning up application servers. That makes 0 sense in a strategic bomber. Moreover, our enemies know this.

    Maybe someone wants to roil Alphabet or something.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No way in hell

      Spinning up new servers is what DevOps is all about. If you application is broken, you don't have to fix it, all you have to do is kill the running k8 and spool up a newly modified, untested one (adding a new problem, but what the hell, it was fast).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a russian citizen

    I am really afraid now.

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: As a russian citizen

      You shouldn't be. Your children will be old until this thing flies.

      1. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: As a russian citizen

        If it ever does.

  10. Jaap Aap

    "The B-21 is expected to fly in 2025", and when it is expected to go into service, 2065?

    And what do they expect the cost per unit to be? You can probably multiply that at least by 10.

  11. Starace

    But why?

    If you want to run a compartmentalised containerised scalable workload on avionics there are already properly designed and standardised options available, with proper deterministic realtime schedulers underneath.

    Though running a Kubernetes type setup on a mission support system might happen, you can put some odd things on stuff that doesn't affect flying or weapons. Though I'd still have thought security requirements might get in the way of Kubernetes being used.

    1. Sanguma Bronze badge

      Re: But why?

      It's so the pilots/avionics managers on board the blessed thing can brush up on their chat-up lines with the local NS/AI (Natural Stupidity/Artificial Intelligence) while penetrating deep, deep into emeny airspace:

      You will respect mah authoritah! The enema of mah enema is mah friend!

  12. ibmalone Silver badge


    Is that a reference to Death Star? A terror weapon built by an evil empire which blew itself apart due to a fundamental design flaw? It's certainly a bold choice of name.

    1. Glen 1 Silver badge

      Re: DevStar?

      I'm sure it will be a Titanic success!

  13. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Can't be long now until fully autonomous weapons running Deep Reinforced Learning decide that humans are mostly a waste of time.

    1. Maelstorm Bronze badge

      You want Skynet? This is how you get Skynet.

  14. Maelstorm Bronze badge

    I remember an incident...

    I remember an incident about 15 years or so ago involving a flight of F-35s (I think). They were flying from Hawaii, USA to Okinawa, Japan. They had to have mid-air refueling to complete the trip, only they didn't. What happened was right when they crossed the International Date Line, the user interfaces of the planes crashed and would not come back. They lost radio, navigation, weapons control, beacons, transponders, autopilot, everything. However, the flight control computer was still functioning since they could still maneuver and the engines were still working...otherwise it would be a REALLY bad day. The planes were equipped with a backup radio and the refueling plane was still in the area. So they flew back to Hawaii with the refueling plain guiding them.

    On the ground, they had to remove power from the planes completely to recover the systems. It was found that a software bug manifested itself when the GPS coordinates changed from -180° to +180° longitude. The manufacturer wrote a patch and applied it within two days. They repeated the flight a few days later without incident.

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: I remember an incident...


    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I remember an incident...

      It was a real monument to the education system that produced the developers and testers. Maybe they believed the Earth is flat.

  15. steviebuk Silver badge

    Reminds me of...

    ....Battle of the Planets for some reason.

  16. Christoph

    OODA stands for "observe–orient–decide–act"

    Shouldn't that be SFHN?

    See the stranger, Fear the stranger, Hate the stranger, Nuke the stranger.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is the airforce in the Cloud already?

    Well this will be fun, we've already seen little software errors in the control software so what's going to happen if Kubernetes starts raining too?

    "Control, we're seeing a problem, we're on a bombing run for that little white house in the Yemen that you requested but Google Maps shows us over the Chesapeake Bay."

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Northrup-Grumman vs Boeing or Lockheed-Martin

    N-G has a track record of delivering many systems without infinite cost overruns, unlike B and L-M. Northrup has long taken an ability to think outside the box and create products that DoD wants to buy, even if the delivery subsequently is made by another vendor due to internal politics in the military. All in all, I'd bet on a 2030 in-service date, unless national politics causes problems.

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