US Military Still Runs Weapons With Floppy Disks

August 10, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 
1. outdated / ˌaʊtˈdeɪ tɪd / (adj.) – not useful or no longer acceptable
Example: They had to use outdated computers because they did not have enough money to buy new ones.

2. spacious / ˈspeɪ ʃəs / (adj.) – having huge capacity
Example: The most spacious hard drive in the store can hold two terabytes.

3. successor / səkˈsɛs ər / (n.) – someone or something that comes after another
Example: Smartphones are the more advanced successors of telephones.

4. network / ˈnɛtˌwɜrk / (n.) – a set of interconnected devices (e.g. computers, printers, telephones) used to send and receive information
Example: The headquarters receives information from soldiers in the field through the network.

5. maintain / meɪnˈteɪn / [meyn-TEYN(v.) – to keep something in a good condition
Example: Her old phone still looks brand-new because she maintains it well.


Read the text below.
The US Department of Defense headquarters, also known as the Pentagon, is still using eight-inch floppy disks.

The floppy disk is an outdated data storage device that has a capacity of only 80 kilobytes. To compare, a modern 1-gigabyte flash drive is equivalent to 12,000 floppy disks. The outdated device was first used back in the 1970s and was replaced by its more advanced and spacious successors. However, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) has revealed that floppy disks are still being used by the Pentagon in running its nuclear weapons.

According to the GAO, the disks are used in a communication system called Strategic Automated Command and Control System. This system sends and receives orders to launch weapons, such as missiles and bombs. The disks are used on a 53-year-old network of IBM Series/1 computers. These computers each have a maximum storage capacity of only 131,072 bytes, or roughly 131 kilobytes.

Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell said that while the nuclear command system is old, it is still secure and effective. However, problems can arise when something in the system breaks and needs to be replaced. The GAO said that replacement parts for the computer network are very difficult to find, as companies now rarely sell these obsolete parts.

The outdated system is also very costly to maintain. The GAO found that maintaining the system can reach up to $60 billion yearly. Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said that the floppy disks are to be replaced with modern storage devices in 2017. Also, Pentagon plans to replace the entire system by late 2020.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         If the obsolete system was still working well, should the US military replace it? Why or why not?
·         What are possible advantages of using the old system?

Discussion B

·         What is the importance of having advanced technology in the government?
·         What are possible dangers of using obsolete technology for government functions?

August 10, 2016