Feature

BCS warns defence chiefs over safety-critical testing



Worldwide acceptance of UK quality standards is needed to increase confidence in safety-critical defence systems. So says BCS president David Hartley in an appeal to defence chiefs, writes John Kavanagh.

In a letter prepared by the society's Safety-Critical Systems Task Force to Robert Walmsley, head of defence procurement, and Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, Hartley says the Ministry of Defence has "led the field" by producing the 00-55 and 00-56 standards for testing safety-critical military equipment and in its development and use of static analysis.

He points to the ministry's commissioning of two static analysis aids - Malpas and Spade - which are now used as standard in assessing certain military equipment in the UK.

But Hartley says the BCS, as the UK's professional institution for software engineering, has concerns about the lack of adherence to the standards even in the UK, let alone worldwide. And he uses Computer Weekly's revelations about the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre, which killed senior defence staff, to support the arguments.

"The BCS is concerned that while the UK has the benefit of using standards like 00-55, the rest of the world does not, in general, use static analysis," he says.

"The Computer Weekly report on the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre highlighted the fact that the software for the helicopter was written in America and had not been subjected to full static analysis.

"If the UK Defence Standard 00-55 had general acceptance in the rest of the world, development and rigorous evaluation would be more straightforward. However, this is unlikely, since even in the UK the full rigour of 00-55 is rarely applied."

Hartley adds, "We would ask you to consider promoting a subset of 00-55 as an internationally acceptable standard. We are well aware that IEC 61508 [a new quality management standard] has now been issued, but we consider that a specific international military standard is required. Continued development and careful promulgation of standards for rigorous evaluation are to be encouraged."

He concludes, "We assure you of the BCS' commitment to furthering the safe and prudent use of software-based systems and it will assist you to improve the situation in any way it can."

You can read our indepth investigation into the crash of the Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre at


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This was first published in January 2000

 

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