US Military Phases Out Floppy Disks for Nuclear Arsenal

There are unexpected advantages to using vintage computer technology

Old floppy disk
Floppy disks like this one were, until recently, used in conjunction with nuclear missiles.
KENPEI/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / October 19, 2019 12:01 pm

For decades at one American military installation, the system that handled the technology used to launch nuclear missiles relied upon floppy disks. And when we say “floppy disks,” we mean it. These aren’t even the relatively compact 3.5” disks that had their heyday in the 1990s before giving way to CDs. No, these disks are 8 inches in size, the sort of thing that might turn the heads of fans of vintage computer gear.

But modern technology has finally come to the Strategic Automated Command and Control System. A new article by Valerie Insinna at C4ISRNET explores the technological changeover.

“At long last, that system, the Strategic Automated Command and Control System or SACCS, has dumped the floppy disk, moving to a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution” this past June, said Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron.”

As Rossi notes, the age of the technology does offer a few unexpected advantages. “You can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address,” he told C4ISRNET.

Mind you, SACCS is relatively spry compared with some of the other computer systems currently in use. A 2015 article from MIT Technology Review explored some of them, including “a computerized contract-management system that [the United States Department of Defense] dubbed Mechanization of Contract Administration Services, or MOCAS.” MOCAS was unveiled in 1958; at the time the article was published, it was still in use. 

But for SACCS, there’s a technological changing of the guard — though it does beg the question of whether someone has been manufacturing 8” floppy disks this whole time.

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