It was recently revealed that the United States is spending about $60bn to maintain museum-ready computers, which many do not even know how to operate after their creators retired. Essentially, the US military’s nuclear arsenal is controlled by 1970s computers that still use 8in floppy disks to read and write data.
The system used to send and receive emergency action messages to US nuclear forces runs on a 1970s IBM computing platform using 8in floppy disks to store information. It is most likely that you haven’t ever seen such floppies – they are not the more modern 3.5in floppy disk that you might only know as the save icon. They are OG 8in floppy – a large floppy square with a magnetic disk inside. 8in could be bought in 1971, but were replaced by the 5¼in five years later, and by the more familiar hard plastic 3.5in in 1982.
According to the US Government Accountability Office, replacement parts for the nuclear forces system are difficult to find because they are obsolete. The Pentagon confirmed that it was calling for a full replacement of the obsolete machines. However, the entire upgrade will take longer, while the crucial floppy disks might be gone by the end of 2017. One should also remember that magnetic media has a finite shelf life, while the floppy disks and the drives needed to read and write to them are already older than the operators of the equipment. In other words, this might make one wonder whether the United States could even launch a nuclear attack if required. In this case, an “error, data corrupted” will literally mean life or death.