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The Navy has contracted Raytheon, a technology and innovation company, for almost $28 million to switch the operating systems in its drones from the current Solaris system to the open source Linux .
The tactical control system (TCS) will originally be developed for the Navy’s vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drones, but it will eventually be used throughout the military. The reasons the Navy has opted for Linux for its drones include reliability, the open source nature of Linux, and security.
Linux is notorious for its sturdy reliability thanks to the way in which it functions, primarily the way it handles background processes and file permissions.
When choosing the software that is going onto a war machine that may make the difference between soldiers coming back alive or not, opting for the more reliable option is the obvious decision to make.
Solaris was once an open source operating system, but once Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2010 it became proprietary software once again. The current version of the VTOL drone TCS is based from Solaris 8 for this reason, and the dated nature of the OS mean it is reaching the end of its useful life.
Since Linux is open source, Raytheon can develop it freely. For clarity, the government is not required to then make any software it develops on Linux into open source as well.
The primary reason behind the switch to Linux is the increasing concern with the threat of malware. Default Linux is known for being unfriendly to users due to the way it handles security, which is a good thing if you want high security.
By hiring a developer to modify Linux as it wants, the military also adds an extra layer of security, as many forms of malware are designed to take advantage of problems with an operating system to increase the potential number of victims.
The drones will not be completely immune to malware, but the level of effort that would be needed to attack them would become extremely prohibitive.