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Science & Technology

Do US nuclear forces still rely on floppy disks?

By T.K. Randall
October 27, 2019 · Comment icon 11 comments

Nuclear operations on floppy disk - what could possibly go wrong ? Image Credit: YouTube / Seeker
A few years ago it was revealed that US Strategic Command used floppy disks for its nuclear operations.
Given the sensitivity and critical importance of the United States' nuclear forces, it would be reasonable to assume that such systems are controlled by state-of-the-art computer technology.

Back in 2014 however, eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (or SACCS), which is used by America's nuclear forces to send emergency messages from command centers to the field, was still using 8-inch floppy disks.

This antiquated disk format was first introduced in 1972 and has been obsolete for decades, so why would the United States be using something like this for its nuclear operations of all things ?

It is not actually all that uncommon for long-lived systems to be using obsolete formats, mainly due to the cost of repeatedly upgrading to newer machines after spending large amounts of money developing the software to work on the original computers.
While potentially more secure due to their offline nature however, such machines are notoriously difficult to repair because replacement components haven't been produced in years.

Fortunately though, the US military has actually been working to modernize its computer systems and to phase out old floppy disks in favor of a modern and 'highly secure solid state digital storage solution' for sending messages between command centers and field forces.

While it is unclear whether or not the transition process is now complete, we can at least rest easy in knowing that the fate of the world no longer relies on the integrity of a few old 8-inch floppy disks.

You can find out more about how the old system worked in the video below.

Source: Engadget | Comments (11)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by susieice 3 years ago
I haven't seen an 8" floppy in decades   Many are in UM that wouldn't even know what this is! You would think they would have at least used a 3 1/2. They held a little more.
Comment icon #3 Posted by third_eye 3 years ago
No money, use floppy...  ~
Comment icon #4 Posted by 'Walt' E. Kurtz 3 years ago
Anyone who remembers these I remember playing games like Xerox and digger on 8 inch discs :-)
Comment icon #5 Posted by RabidMongoose 3 years ago
The reason why the military stick with older technology is because they understand it, they understand its weaknesses, and they know they can rely on it. Its not classified information that the F-22 which began its initial design phase in the 1980s uses a 2mhz cpu from that era. The American government stockpiled several hundred of those processors for the production of the jet paying over $6 million per piece. The high price was because they required the manufacturer to open up a production line to make just those old cpus. The problem with current cpus is they are so complex no one can be su... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by weaselrunner 3 years ago
The military was surprised to find vacuum tubes used in the mig-25 and other soviet equipment. It's old but it works and less effected by emp effects than modern solid state electronics.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Jon the frog 3 years ago
I had an Atari 800 computer, and playing Encounter on a magnetic tape cassette  or Tunnel of doom on the TI99 ! It was so fun !  
Comment icon #8 Posted by Seti42 3 years ago
NASA's probes and rovers use 'outdated' tech too. Sometimes old but solid and rigorously tested is better for critical stuff than the latest shiny new iProduct. If it does what it needs to do, securely and efficiently, it's good. That said, yeah...An upgrade to something solid state that isn't a consumer product might be a good idea. PS: I'd love to come upon a stack of pristine 8" floppies. I've wanted to do a small series of 70's and 80's cyberpunk inspired paintings on them for ages now...
Comment icon #9 Posted by S I N 3 years ago
So the military has this massive budget but it costs to much to upgrade ?
Comment icon #10 Posted by ThereWeAreThen 3 years ago
Behave ! Children may use this site.
Comment icon #11 Posted by highdesert50 3 years ago
There are also legacy systems, written in what we might now describe as spaghetti code, that are complex. These can be easier to maintain than to rewrite especially so when iterative modifications have occurred over years and there is the potential of loosing some nuance.

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