The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program Is Still Running On Floppy Disks

WTF is going on here?

Titan Missile in silo Wikimedia

Nuclear forces in the United States are finally about to receive a major upgrade to the computer systems that would be critical in the event of a nuclear emergency. 

It’s 2016 so you’d think that might mean, at minimum, finally upgrading various computers in the system from, say, Windows XP. That might be mildly alarming, sure—but the truth is worse: according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Dept. of Defense is still using 8″ inch floppy disks. 

The GAO issued a report in May, “Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems.” It detailed how the government is still supporting and maintaining “federal legacy IT investments” that “have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old.” For reference, the internet is only about 49 years old. The eyebrow-raising portion of the report was yet to come:

For example, Department of Defense uses 8- inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of the nation’s nuclear forces. In addition, Department of the Treasury uses assembly language code—a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed. 

The report was less unsettling as it went on, noting that the Defense Dept. began systems replacements early in 2016 that will be completed by 2020. The old floppies in use by nuclear forces should be gone by 2017, with much more up-to-date digital storage in place. 

One of the report’s conclusions was that out of the $80 billion the government allocated for IT use in 2015, more than $60 billion was used run and service systems, including these ancient and out-of-date program languages and storage. 

On the whole, the GAO’s report made it clear that the federal government is finally pushing to bring all its systems in line with modern tech, including the use of cloud storage for—hopefully—non critical systems.

Still, it’s amazing to think that up till now, media that might have been critical in the event of a nuclear disaster was the sort of thing most of us cleaned out of the bottom desk drawer and trashed a decade ago. 

h/t The Hill