Skip to main content

US nuclear operations are coordinated by floppy disks

A new report has revealed that a great deal of the US government's most important functions, including the management of its nuclear arsenal and the collecting of taxes, are still handled by severely outdated legacy systems.

The “Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems” report offers insight into how many departments use systems and technologies that are no longer supported by their manufacturers, with the oldest system still in use being over 50 years old.

The fact that the US Defense Department is still using 8-inch floppy disks in the system that is responsible for controlling the country's nuclear forces is startling. The IBM Series/1, which was designed in the 1970s, is used by the department to coordinate intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft. The report also listed the “Strategic Automated Command and Control System” as one of the 10 oldest IT systems currently in use by the US government.

The US government is also utilising legacy systems to handle a number of other functions related to its taxpayers, federal prisoners and military veterans. The report added further details concerning these systems: “Federal legacy IT systems are becoming increasingly obsolete: Many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported. Agencies reported using several systems that have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old.”

The Defense Department though does have plans to upgrade the legacy systems that control its nuclear operations. Lieutenant Colonel Valerie Henderson, a spokesperson for the department, explained why these systems are still in use and how the government plans to upgrade them in the future:

“This system remains in use because, in short, it still works. However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with Secure Digital devices by the end of 2017. Modernisation across the entire Nuclear Command, Control and Communications enterprise remains ongoing.”

Rodney Billingsley, Federal Sales Leader at Tintri commented: “A recent report from the Government Accountability Office highlighted several government departments where legacy systems need to be replaced - and that includes storage. Given the government’s emphasis on virtualisation, the risk is that these departments invest in storage that offers all-flash IOPS via a dated architecture. That solves for near-term performance, but not manageability.

"What they really need is all-flash storage specifically built for virtualisation and cloud, so they can guarantee performance of mission critical applications and scale with far greater efficiency. Several departments have already invested in a virtualisation aware storage platform, and are managing storage in a fraction of the time and at far reduced cost."

Image Credit: Frontpage / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.