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Thursday, 31 October 2019

The US military has finally stopped using floppy disks to control its nuclear weapons


Do you know what a floppy disk is? You should probably be surprised by the title of this article. You do not know what a floppy disk is? Know that our lives depend on it, literally.

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Fortunately for all of us, the future of humanity is no longer at the mercy of this obsolete data storage medium. Indeed, now 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 in the late 1990s, especially since the use of compact discs and the Internet, both of which have gradually replaced some uses of floppy disks. Then, during the 2000s , USB sticks and memory cards give the coup de grace floppy disks, on new personal computers. And it is finally in March 2011 that Sony permanently stops the manufacture of 3.5-inch floppies (the latest floppy disk still existing, created 30 years ago).

Floppies survive in our memories as save button icons, in some programs. Credits: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

However, they remained the main data storage system of the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which coordinates the operations of US nuclear missiles and bombers.

But now Lieutenant-Colonel Jason Rossi of 595 Strategic Communications Squadron of the US Air Force, who oversees the day-to-day operations of SACCS, said the diskettes were finally removed in June of this year. Few details about the upgrade have been made public, but Rossi said the old drives have been replaced by a " highly secure solid state digital storage solution ."

The SACCS elements seen here are subjected to diagnostic tests by the 595th Airborne Strategic Communications Squadron. Credits: Valerie Insinna / Staff

Despite the many limitations of using technology dating back half a century, Rossi also said that the continued use of floppy disks has actually helped to make the world safer because "  you can not hack something that does not have an IP address ...  "

However, maintenance problems eventually led to the need for modernization. Indeed, it is often impossible to find replacement parts for defective components, which means that they must all be repaired, a process that takes a lot of time and usually requires re-wiring and soldering the circuits to the using a microscope. Note that modern technicians are not trained in this.


This is why the military relies mainly on relatively old civilian technicians to repair floppy disks, as new recruits simply do not have the skills to maintain this equipment.

A 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office (USGAO) indicated that SACCS was still running on a 1970s IBM Series / 1 computer, and that $ 61 billion was spent on maintaining the system every year.

The USGAO also pointed out that the Ministry of Defense is considering " updating its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, handheld devices and desktop terminals ", thus permanently ending the age of floppy disk ...

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