A US government report has revealed that the Pentagon uses floppy disks as part of the communications network used for issuing nuclear strike commands. The revelation is part of an urgent call for the government to update its ageing technology.
The disks in question aren’t the 3.5″ ones in a rigid case that many of us will remember. Neither are they the 5.25″ truly floppy ones that the older among us may recall. Instead that are the 8″ floppy disks which were widely used in the early-to-mid 1970s.
The computer system in question is used by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System. The report describes the system as such:
Coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts. This system runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer—a 1970s computing system— and uses 8-inch floppy disks.
The report, from the Government Accountability Office, notes that among the risks associated with this is the sheer difficulty of sourcing replacement disks as and when needed. The good news is that the department plans to update the entire system by the end of the next financial year.
The same can’t be said of the only two older systems cited in the report, both operated by the Department of the Treasury. These are the master files that store all tax records and data for individuals and businesses:
This investment is written in assembly language code—a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain—and operates on an IBM mainframe.
In both these cases, the Treasury says only that it has “general plans” for an update and has no timescale in place.