If you’re too young to know what a floppy disk is then you may be surprised to learn that it’s the very thing your life has depended on. And if you do know what a floppy disk is then you’ll probably be even more surprised by this. Fortunately, though, the future of humanity is no longer at the mercy of an obsolete 8-inch disk, as the US military has finally stopped using this technological relic to control its arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Developed in the 1960s, floppy disks disappeared from common use several decades ago yet have remained the primary data storage system of the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which coordinates the operations of the US’s nuclear missiles and bombers.
In an interview with C4isrnet, Lieutenant Colonel Jason Rossi of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron – which oversees the daily operations of the SACCS – explained that the floppies were finally dumped in June of this year. Few details of the upgrade have been made public, but Rossi says that the old disks have been replaced by a “highly secure solid-state digital storage solution.”
Despite the many limitations that come with using technology from half a century ago, Rossi says the continued use of floppy disks has actually helped to make the world a safer place, as “you can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address.”
Yet maintenance issues have ultimately driven the need for modernization, as it is often impossible to source replacements for faulty components, meaning they all have to be repaired. This is a time-consuming process, and generally requires circuits to be re-wired and soldered under a microscope – something modern-day technicians are not trained to do. For this reason, the military mostly relies on aging civilian technicians to fix their faulty floppies, as new recruits simply don’t have the skills to maintain the hardware.
A 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office (USGAO) noted that the SACCS still operates using an IBM Series/1 computer from the 1970s, and that $61 billion is currently spent on maintaining this system each year.
The USGAO wrote that the Defense Department planned to “update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals,” finally bringing an end to the age of the floppy disk.