America’s nuclear forces finally drop ancient 8-inch floppy disk system
The US Defense Department has finally ended the use of 8-inch floppy disks for coordinating the country’s nuclear forces. C4ISRNET reports that as of this June, the USA’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS) has transitioned to a “highly secure solid state digital storage solution.” SACCS is one of the US nuclear force’s ways of sending messages between nuclear command centers and the field.
The US nuclear force had originally planned on phasing out the system by the end of 2017, after a government report had raised concerns about the use of the outdated technology the previous year. C4ISRNET notes that the report had also called for the modernization of various other portable and desktop terminals, as well as “port expansion processors,” but it’s unclear whether this work has been completed.
The old machines had to be repaired and soldered by hand because they can’t be easily replaced
The antiquated system, which runs on an IBM / Series 1 computer, has its advantages. It’s entirely offline, for example, which cuts off a key attack vector. However, that can’t make up for the challenges of maintaining such an old system. C4ISRNET describes how the system’s maintainers have to literally use soldering irons to fix the old equipment, because you can’t swap out components when they break, and The New York Times notes that the last 8-inch floppy disk was manufactured five years ago, making them increasingly difficult to source.
According to Tom Persky, a floppy disk expert quoted by the NYT, it’s surprisingly common to find floppy disks still in old industrial machines and medical devices. If an expensive machine is designed to be used for multiple decades, it’s not cost-effective to immediately replace it the second a newer storage medium becomes available. Physical media may be becoming an increasingly rare sight for consumers, but elsewhere it’s likely to stick around for decades.