Indian president calls for open source in defense

The former missile scientist says nonproprietary technology would make his nation's weapon systems safer.

In another public-sector boost to open-source software, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam called for his country's military to use such nonproprietary technology to ward off cybersecurity threats.

"Software maintenance and software upgrade is an important issue for defense," Kalam said at a meeting of Indian Navy’s Weapons and Electronic System Engineering Establishment in New Delhi last week.

Without naming any proprietary software products, the president asked defense engineers to develop and implement on open platforms. "Even though the required software for the equipment could be developed by the private industry, it is essential that the technical know-how and the architecture is fully available with these services for ensuring provision of lifetime support for the software which may or may not be forthcoming from the trade."

Kalam, a former head of India’s defense research and development organization and architect of the guided missile program, has been a supporter of open-source software. Under the Indian constitution, the president is also the supreme commander of the armed forces--army, navy and air force.

Linux, an open-source operating system, has been winning support from government leaders and local authorities in some countries. Recently the city of Bergen, Norway, decided to replace Windows and Unix with Linux operating systems, citing costs and reliability as reasons. Another European city, Munich, has decided to continue using Linux at the end of a yearlong trial.

The thrust of Kalam's speech was that the nation should achieve self-reliance in software needed for critical weapon system development. Past restrictions on so-called dual-purpose hardware and software imports from the United States have led to local development of systems. Technology embargoes were imposed following the testing of nuclear devices by India, under Kalam’s leadership, in 1998.

Kalam, a former scientist, also pointed out the usefulness of newer technology in defense training, mentioning that recently he used voice over Internet protocol to connect to scientists at the Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. He had another such session with Indian and American space experts attending the Indo-U.S. space congress at Bangalore last month.

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