Thursday 26 May 2016 12.30 BSTLast modified on Friday 14 July
2017 20.21 BST
The US military’s nuclear arsenal is controlled by computers built in
the 1970s that still use 8in floppy disks.
A report into the state of the US government, released by congressional
investigators, has revealed that the country is spending around $60bn (£40.8bn)
to maintain museum-ready computers, which many do not even know how to operate
any more, as their creators retire.
The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System
(DDSACCS), which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to US
nuclear forces, runs on a 1970s IBM computing platform. It still uses 8in
floppy disks to store data.
We’re not even talking the more modern 3.5in floppy disk that
millennials might only know as the save icon. We’re talking the OG 8in
floppy, which was a large floppy square with a magnetic disk
inside it. They became commercially available in 1971, but were replaced by the
5¼in floppy in 1976, and by the more familiar hard plastic 3.5in floppy in
Shockingly, the US Government Accountability Office said: “Replacement
parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete.”
The Pentagon said it was instigating a full replacement of the ancient
machines and while the entire upgrade will take longer, the crucial floppy
disks should be gone by the end of next year.
Given that magnetic media
has a finite shelf life, and that disks and the drives needed to read and write
to them are older than some of the operators of the machinery, the floppy
revelation makes you wonder whether the US could even launch a nuclear attack
if required. An “error, data corrupted” message could be literally life or