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US military retires 8-inch floppy disks from nuke system

Joint Tactical Ground Station D Detachment Soldiers assigned to Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan undergo certification to remain current on their early warning, theater ballistic missile defense mission. (U.S. Army photo by Robert S. Segin)
October 18, 2019

The United States military is finally ditching 1970’s era eight-inch floppy disks it once used to secure nuclear launch orders sent by the President.

Nuclear targeting systems will now include a “highly-secure solid-state digital storage solution.” The defense technology publication C4ISRNET reported on the nuclear weapons update on Friday after they learned of the U.S. military’s continued use of floppy disks back in 2014.

The old floppy disk system, called the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), was used by U.S. nuclear forces to send emergency action messages from command centers to field forces. The system remained an attractive method for securing highly sensitive communications between command centers and forces in the field as it is unhackable precisely because it was created before the advent of the internet.

“You can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address. It’s a very unique system — it is old and it is very good,” Lt. Col. Jason Rossi told C4ISRNET.

In 2016, the Defense Department reportedly announced it would replace the old SACCS computer system and “update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017.”

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The U.S. Air Force officials did not confirm whether they completed that update, but did say they have enhanced the speed and connectivity of SACCS system.

“You have to be able to certify that an adversary can’t take control of that weapon, that the weapon will be able to do what it’s supposed to do when you call on it,” Air Force Scientific Advisory Board chair Dr. Werner JA Dahm reportedly said in 2016.

Dahm’s assessment appeared to suggest the slow process such a critical weapons coordination system would need to undergo before an update.

The Air Force also appears to remain confident in the security and maintenance of the old SACCS system.

Shortly after taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump said he wanted to keep the U.S. ahead of the nuclear advancements of other countries.

Trump said the U.S. military must stay at the “top of the pack” regarding nuclear weapons.

“I am the first one that would like to see … nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power,” he said.

Since assuming office, Trump has pulled out of a controversial nuclear agreement with Iran amid concerns the agreement would not sufficiently inhibit Iranian nuclear development.

In more recent weeks, Russia has lent new-found support to China to develop a warning system to detect ballistic missile launches; a tool for nuclear deterrence previously only held by Russia and the United States