In 1997 the USS Yorktown’s entire propulsion system failed after attempting to divide by zero
From 1996 Yorktown was used as the testbed for the Navy’s Smart Ship program. The ship was equipped with a network of 27 dual 200 MHz Pentium Pro-based machines running Windows NT 4.0 communicating over fiber-optic cable with a Pentium Pro-based server. This network was responsible for running the integrated control center on the bridge, monitoring condition assessment, damage control, machinery control and fuel control, monitoring the engines and navigating the ship. This system was predicted to save $2.8 million per year by reducing the ship’s complement by 10%.
On 21 September 1997, while on maneuvers off the coast of Cape Charles, Virginia, a crew member entered a zero into a database field causing an attempted division by zero in the ship’s Remote Data Base Manager, resulting in a buffer overflow which brought down all the machines on the network, causing the ship’s propulsion system to fail.
Anthony DiGiorgio, a civilian contractor with a 26-year history of working on Navy control systems, reported in 1998 that Yorktown had to be towed back to Norfolk Naval Station. Ron Redman, a deputy technical director with the Aegis Program Executive Office, backed up this claim, suggesting that such system failures had required Yorktown to be towed back to port several times.
In 3 August 1998 issue of Government Computer News, a retraction by DiGiorgio was published. He claims the reporter altered his statements, and insists that he did not claim the Yorktown was towed into Norfolk. GCN stands by its story.
Atlantic Fleet officials also denied the towing, reporting that Yorktown was “dead in the water” for just 2 hours and 45 minutes. Captain Richard Rushton, commanding officer of Yorktown at the time of the incident, also denied that the ship had to be towed back to port, stating that the ship returned under its own power.
Atlantic Fleet officials acknowledged that the Yorktown experienced what they termed “an engineering local area network casualty”. “We are putting equipment in the engine room that we cannot maintain and, when it fails, results in a critical failure,” DiGiorgio said.
Even though the problem was caused by programming error in the Remote Data Base Manager application and not by problems with the operating system itself, criticism of operating system choice ensued. Ron Redman, deputy technical director of the Fleet Introduction Division of the Aegis Program Executive Office, said that there have been numerous software failures associated with NT aboard the Yorktown.