Pentagon Spends $3B On Y2K Bug

The millennium bug is a $3 billion nightmare, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin. It lurks deep in the 25,000 computer systems the Pentagon depends on for everything from firepower to payroll.

Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre calls it "a threat to the core of our military superiority."

"I think it's an electronic El Nino," said Hamre. "This is going to be far reaching, have significant consequences, some of them unpredictable."

In fact, the Pentagon -- which according to Hamre probably has more computers than any organization in the world -- wants a joint early warning center with Russia in case a computer glitch triggers a nuclear false alarm.

"There can't be any doubt in the president's mind that he has positive control over nuclear weapons," said Hamre.

If tomorrow were January 1, 2000, Navy computers would not be able to plan missions for the tomahawk cruise missile.

"Time of day, time of year can be important, and so manipulating the date is an essential part of what this computer has to do," said Deputy Program Manager Tom Laux.

Laux is confident the Tomahawk will be fixed in time for the year 2000, but currently 33 other critical defense systems - besides the Tomahawk -- are behind schedule.

"We're behind by a timetable that gave us a bit of a cushion, but I still would suspect we're going to have some nasty surprises," said Hamre.

Nasty surprises could mean losing track of spare parts or loss of computerized satellite photo archive. It could also make it impossible to conduct realistic battlefield simulations. In fact, the Pentagon had little choice but to spend $3 billion for a fix.

Hamre is so worried about whether the pentagon will be ready for the year 2000 that he may soon order a halt to all other work on weapons and computers until they are first rid of the millennium bug.

Reported by David Martin
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