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Feds' nuclear defense system uses ancient computer with 8-inch floppy drives

The federal government still relies on ancient technology to run some of our most critical systems, including the DoD's computers that control ICBM nuclear missiles.

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The Castle Union test of the Mark 14 design. April 1954. The Mark 14 nuclear bomb was a 1950s Strategic thermonuclear weapon, the first solid-fuel staged hydrogen bomb. It was an experimental design, and only five units were produced in early 1954 and had a yield of 6.9 megatons. Bikini Atoll, Pacific. (PHoto by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
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Prepare to be afraid.

America's nuclear forces, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft are coordinated using a 1970s era IBM Series/1 mainframe computer that uses 8-inch floppy drives, according to a new report issued by the Government Accountability Office.

The report, entitled "Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems" (PDF), looks at the government's technology infrastructure and its spending to maintain hardware and software that, in some cases, is at least 50 years old. The report also calls out the Department of the Treasury, which "uses assembly language code -- a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed."

And the Veteran Affairs' benefits and delivery network uses a 51-year-old mainframe system, written in Cobol, to make sure veterans receive their benefits.

"Federal legacy IT investments are becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported," the report says.

On the plus side, several of the agencies singled out in the report say they do plan to begin modernizing the systems.