U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Controlled by 1970’s Era Computers run with 8 in. Floppy Disks

A post on Lew Rockwell’s Political Theatre blog this morning mentioned this story from 2016. I remember when the story came out and thinking then that it was a perfect example of the screwed up priorities of the federal government.

Per the Guardian:

“The US military’s nuclear arsenal is controlled by computers built in the 1970s that still use 8in floppy disks.

A report into the state of the US government, released by congressional investigators, has revealed that the country is spending around $60bn (£40.8bn) to maintain museum-ready computers, which many do not even know how to operate any more, as their creators retire.”

The amount of money spent annually to manage the nuclear system can be debated. What is abundantly clear is that using 50-year-old computers, comprised of technology that doesn’t even exist anymore, to control the emergency nuclear launch system of thousands of nuclear weapons is shockingly irresponsible. Modern computers have a shelf life of about five years before they become obsolete.  What does that say about our nuclear capabilities? How much of that $60 billion is being wasted propping up old, outdated technology?

While our nuclear arsenal is controlled by obsolete technology, the NSA, CIA, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies are spending upwards of a hundred billion dollars on state of the art technology to spy on American citizens. The CIA currently has the technology to hack the computer system in your car and control it independently. They can hack your newest consumer gadgets and spy on you in your own home. It is more than a little disconcerting that the federal government spends more tax dollars spying on and attacking their own citizens, than they do on the system that defends them from foreign nuclear attacks.

As someone who is unwaveringly anti-war, I believe anti-war people need to support treaties that pare down the nuclear arsenal to bare minimum levels. At the same time, any nuclear weapons that a state does maintain need to, at least, be operated by current technology.

All this begs the question: can the U.S. even launch nuclear weapons with their outdated system?

Per The Guardian:

“Given that magnetic media has a finite shelf life, and that disks and the drives needed to read and write to them are older than some of the operators of the machinery, the floppy revelation makes you wonder whether the US could even launch a nuclear attack if required. An “error, data corrupted” message could be literally life or death.”

The Pentagon claims that replacement computers are forthcoming and that the 8 in. floppy disks will all be replaced by the end of 2017. Given this is the same federal government that is $20 trillion dollars in debt and has been running annual budget deficits for almost two decades, forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.


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