US Nuclear Weapons Computers Still Use Floppy Disks

Red Morris/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Along with screeching modems and your Beanie Babies Geocities website, you’d think that floppy disks were long left behind in the early days of domestic computers. In fact, a recent study showed that only 14 percent of kids today know what the “save icon” on a computer represents.

But according to a recent report, the United States government still uses 8-inch floppy disks for its nuclear weapon systems.

The report from the United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO) also explains that their command and control system – which oversees intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircraft – is run on a 1970s-era IBM Series/1 computer system.

Eight-inch floppy disks have been produced with varying storage capacity, but the largest commercially available disks could hold up to 1,212 kilobytes – that wouldn’t even be enough for a 3-minute song.

Although some of their equipment is a little more up to date, the USGAO say that $61 billion of taxpayers money goes on maintenance of their current computer system every year. They added: “The government runs the risk of maintaining systems that have outlived their effectiveness.”

However, a project of "development, modernisation and enhancement" is underway. The government hopes to phase out its use of floppy disks by 2017. As for its 1970s-era command and control computers, it hopes they will be replaced by 2020.

So, why is the US government still using these outdated relics? The Department of Defense seem quite blunt about the answer. Speaking to AFP News Agency, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said: "This system remains in use because, in short, it still works."

Main image credit: Red Morris/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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