The electromagnetic pulse commonly abbreviated as EMP, is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles, can be produced by intense solar storms or by a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere. For example, solar geomagnetic storms (geomagnetic disturbances or GMD) create immediate and intense current surges that may disrupt electrical and electronic systems, potentially on a continental scale.
Russian and Chinese military scientists in open source writings describe the basic principles of nuclear weapons designed specifically to generate an enhanced-EMP effect, that they term “Super-EMP” weapons. A Super-EMP warhead would have a low-yield, because it is not designed to create a big explosion, but to produce gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect. One design of a Super-EMP warhead would be a modified neutron bomb, more accurately an Enhanced Radiation Warhead (ERW) because it produces not only large amounts of neutrons but large amounts of gamma rays that cause the EMP effect
“Super-EMP” weapons, according to these foreign open source writings, can destroy even the best protected U.S. military and civilian electronic systems. In 2012, a military commentator for the People’s Republic of China told a Hong Kong journal that North Korea has Super-EMP nuclear warheads.
Satellite imagery has revealed a secret anti-satellite weapons base in China, as well as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons testing facilities. The discovery was made by retired Indian Army Col. Vinayak Bhat, who specializes in satellite image analysis focused on China. He noted in India’s The Print news website that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) now has several of these facilities, including in Tibet and Xinjiang. The EMP weapons facilities, meanwhile, appear to be for testing. They include some simulated electrical infrastructure and nearby facilities housing the weapons.
The US Analysts believe that EMP threat is as real as nuclear threats from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. “Nuclear EMP attack is part of the military doctrines, plans, and exercises of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran for a revolutionary new way of warfare against military forces and civilian critical infrastructures by cyber, sabotage, and EMP,” reads the report from the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack. These potential adversaries in their military doctrines include as part of cyber warfare a wide spectrum of operations beyond computer viruses, including sabotage and kinetic attacks, up to and including nuclear EMP attack.
On the other hand many foreign analysts–particularly in Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia–view the United States as a potential aggressor and perceive the United States as having contingency plans to make a nuclear EMP attack, and as being willing to execute those plans under a broad range of circumstances.
New weapons that can produce EMP like effects are also being developed by militaries. Focused high-power electromagnetic weapons soon will be able to disable an aircraft carrier battle group in seconds; destroy the electronics of land-based aircraft before they can launch their weapons; knock out vital communications, surveillance, weather, and command and control spacecraft without warning; and leave ground forces as blind and cutoff from each other as those during the American Revolution. Meanwhile, the enemy would retain cutting-edge military capabilities.
US is itself developing emp kind weapons. Boeing has announced that it successfully tested an electromagnetic pulse missile capable of disabling electronics without affecting structures. The Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) was tested by a Boeing Phantom Works/U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate team on October 2015 at the Utah Test and Training Range.
The advances in technologies are making high-power electromagnetic weapons miniaturized hence stealthy, lethal and economical hence becoming perfect weapon for terrorists and saboteurs because they can strike silently, invisibly, and with total devastation. The delivery systems have also become accessible, today anyone able to buy space on a cheap space launch vehicle, acquire fleets of commercial drones, or transport high-power electromagnetic weapons inside a van or small truck has the potential to launch an EMP attack.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order on “Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” in March 2019 after he recognized the growing threat EMPs pose to the nation. “An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems,” the order stated. “Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the nation’s security and economic prosperity and could adversely affect global commerce and stability. The federal government must foster sustainable, efficient and cost-effective approaches to improving the nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs.
The latest defense authorization bill signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 2020 contains new measures requiring the federal government to protect the nation from the danger of nuclear-blast-produced electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks and similar solar-produced electronic disruptions.
Electromagnetic Threats (EMP) or Weapons of Mass Electrical Destruction Threat
“Detonation of a single generic nuclear bomb between 30-400 kilometers above earth will create an EMP that propagates outward towards earth with a radius of between 600 and 2,200 kilometers,” he wrote. According to the congressional, study, an EMP bomb causes dangerous effects within its entire field.” The oxygen and nitrogen atoms collide with the radiation waves in the air to generate a strong electromagnetic pulse.
HEMP can result in field strength of about 50,000 volts per metre depending on factors like altitude of the detonation, energy yield, gamma ray output, interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field and electromagnetic shielding of targets. The resulting rapidly changes electric and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges.
JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy report: “Addressing Electromagnetic Threats to U.S. Critical Infrastructure” says, “The Congressionally-mandated EMP Commission Reports of 2004 and 2008 concluded that the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat to our nation is serious, that it is possible to mitigate the threat, but that little is being done to meet the challenge.”
Terrifying impact of EMP weapons
As the U.S. Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack points out, “the physical and social fabric of the United States is sustained by a system of systems – a complex and dynamic network of interlocking and interdependent infrastructures whose harmonious functioning enables the myriad actions, transactions, and information flow that undergird the orderly conduct of civil society.”
The nuclear bombs being developed, according to the report, could take out all electronics, ranging from computers and cell phones to entire electric grids, over several hundred miles. “A single nuclear weapon can potentially make an EMP attack against a target the size of North America,” the report reads.
According to the Commission, EMP effects represent arguably the largest-scale common-cause failure events that could affect our electric power grid and undermine our society, leaving it vulnerable on many fronts. High-voltage control cables and large transformers that control the grid are particularly vulnerable. Transformers weigh 400 tons, take two years to build, and cost $7 million apiece. We are already way behind in having backup transformers ready, so if many go out at once, we have a big problem powering our country.
The study predicted that impact of EMP-induced industrial accidents can cause explosions and extensive fires. The toxic clouds formed due to the explosion of chemical plants can polluted air, water, and earth. Hence, without pure air and water, people will not be able to survive for long. The study says: “In one year, as some EMP experts have warned for over a decade, 9 of 10 Americans are dead from starvation, disease, and societal collapse”. It would be an unimaginable situation when a nuclear aggressor will deploy EMP bombs: Russia striking Europe; China targeting Taiwan; Iran targeting the Middle East, and North Korea targeting Japan.
Since then, our nation has further increased its reliance on technologies that depend upon the availability of electricity and digital electronics to manage and monitor the network of systems that deliver our basic goods and services.””Our system for generating and distributing electricity is the core of this network. Failure here could cascade across other vital national infrastructures such as: telecommunications, transportation, banking, critical medical care, and water filtration and pumping. This could severely disrupt everything we take for granted, from food and water distribution to functioning sewer, medical, healthcare and banking systems, “says the report.
The hearing, “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): Threat to Critical Infrastructure,” before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies explored the effects an EMP would have. It reached the conclusion that the damage caused would be catastrophic, and “every single facet of modern human life” would be crippled by such an event. “It strikes at my very core when I think of the men, women, and children in cities and rural towns across America with a possibility of no access to food, water, or transportation,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), who has worked to raise awareness on the issue for years.
While the nation’s critical defense assets, including nuclear defense capabilities, are currently protected against an EMP, the civilian grid is “almost entirely vulnerable.” National grid system or the life-staining critical infrastructures which rely on it are vulnerable.
At some point, the U.S. military needs to realize that future wars will no longer be won by building the fastest planes, biggest aircraft carriers, and the largest tanks,” Jonathan Hollerman, a former U.S. Air Force survival instructor and EMP consultant, has correctly written (“Big News on the EMP Front,”). “The new battlefield will take place in the electromagnetic spectrum. Wars will be won or lost in cyberspace and by electronic weaponry.”
Geopolitics of EMP Weapons
In an article titled, “Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars,” an Iranian Military journal explains how an EMP attack on America’s electronic infrastructure, caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the U.S., would bring the country to its knees. “Once you confuse the enemy communication network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command- and decision-making center,” the article states.
“Even worse today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications, you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults then they will disintegrate within a few years. American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot.”
North Korea’s H-bomb is ‘Super-EMP’ weapon
Defense Department 2015 report Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea warns that North Korea now has nuclear-armed mobile ICBMs, the KN-08 and KN-14, that can strike the United States.North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un claims to have tested an H-Bomb, in his fourth overt nuclear test since 2006. The White House pointed out that the estimated 3.4- to seven-kiloton blast couldn’t be from a full-blown H-bomb-the smallest previous explosion of such a bomb having yielded about 30 kilotons—and explained the explosion as merely the result of a weapon in which a small amount of fusion fuel is used to boost a fission reaction. However, Expert, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who served on the former Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, told Secrets that the yield of the North Korean explosion is well within the requirements of a Super-EMP weapon.
Moreover, North Korea has orbiting over the U.S. two satellites on trajectories optimized to evade U.S. early warning radars and National Missile Defenses that could generate EMP fields over North America, if they are nuclear-armed. In fact, an EMP attack can be made launching a short-range missile off a freighter (as practiced by Iran), by private jet doing a zoom climb, or even by balloon, says Expert, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry. Obama’s Defense Department was reported to be spending nearly $1 billion to further harden the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) command against a nuclear EMP attack from North Korea and other actors.
“Neutron bombs or Enhanced Radiation Weapons such as Super-EMP weapons are essentially very low-yield H-Bombs, that typically have yields of 1-10 kilotons, just like the North Korean device,” said Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.”Thus, Kim Jong-Un could be telling the truth. Indeed, all four North Korean nuclear tests look like a Super-EMP weapon because of their very low yield. That the ‘Dear Leader’ describes the latest test as an H-Bomb is further evidence that North Korea’s mysterious nuke is a Super-EMP warhead,” added Pry.
Super-EMP weapon would have low-yield, because it is not designed to create a big explosion, but to convert its energy into gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect. North Korean overt nuclear tests in 2009, 2013, and now in 2015 all had low yields, in the neighborhood of 3-10 kilotonsPry has warned that North Korea could deliver the bomb via ship or on a satellite. In fact, he recently said that North Korea practiced an EMP strike against the U.S. by orbiting a satellite at the correct altitude and trajectory to launch the attack.
China should bolster its defences so that critical infrastructure could withstand potential future electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks that can wipe out power grids and communication, according to a Chinese military nuclear research institute. The United States is vulnerable to damage caused by extremely powerful electromagnetic pulses, but by 2032 it will have built up the capability to protect its vital infrastructure from such an attack, according to the Chinese researchers’ assessment, based on their analysis of recent US government and military documents. That could tip the strategic balance among world powers, requiring China and Russia to step up their defences to guard against a potential US attack, they said.
China itself is also developing EMP weapons, “China is likely to mobilize electromagnetic pulse weapons against the United States in a potential conflict over the Taiwan Strait, according to a report prepared by retired US defense department official F Michael Maloof for the WorldNet Daily, a conservative news website based in Washington DC.”
For example, China has developed a cruise missile that can be hidden inside a shipping container on a cargo ship. Such a missile, armed with an EMP warhead, could launch from any port to destroy vital military sites, manufacturing facilities, and critical infrastructure like the domestic power grid. Erecting electromagnetic defensive systems is considered the best short-term approach.
The People’s Liberation Army carried out last August, one of the largest drill designed to determine how the PLA will respond in the event of an attack, including the use of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, from a foreign country. The exercises were a simulated EMP attack targeting communications and radar systems. Col. Chen Hong, a former professor at the PLA Air Force College, said “The exercises show that our nation has the ability to defend ourselves against any invasion,” Col. Chen said. “They are a deterrent to countries around us.”
US EMP Weapons
US is also developing EMP weapons, that don’t require a nuclear explosion. The U.S. Navy deployed in Middle East waters and off the coast of China is now employing offensive EMP capabilities to the Boeing Growler, a modified F-18 Super Hornet with the designation EA-18G airborne electronic attack aircraft. The Growler will be the cornerstone of naval airborne electronic attacks, capable of suppressing enemy air defenses and initiate electromagnetic pulse attacks on enemy positions.Boeing has demonstrated their Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), which is aimed at disabling and destroying any and all electronics.
US extends $10 million contract for a missile that disables electronics
The CHAMP program is a three-year endeavor between Boeing and U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory that hopes to eventually produce five such EMP missiles. “Raytheon has received a USD10 million US Air Force (USAF) contract for directed energy activities, including integration of the Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) payload onto the conventional variant of the Boeing AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile (CALCM),” company executives told IHS Jane reporters.
“This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare,” said Keith Coleman, Boeing Phantom Works’ CHAMP Program Manager. “In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.”
The 2012 CHAMP test involved firing high powered microwaves at a two story building filled with personal computers and various electronics at the Utah Test and Training Range in western Utah. Just seconds after being hit by the microwaves the electronics went dead “without collateral damage,” according to the Boeing press release.The organisation said that it is working on an improved, second-generation “multi-shot, multi-target HPM cruise missile” that builds on the mature counter-electronics high-power microwave advanced missile project payload previously demonstrated.
The head of the Air Force Research Laboratory has nominated Lockheed Martin’s stealthy, long-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) as the optimal air vehicle to carry a new computer-killing electronic attack payload known as CHAMP, or Counter-electronics High-powered microwave Advanced Missile Project.
Terrorist use of Electromagnetic Weapons
In recent years there is a growing threat that terrorists could use HPM (High Power Microwaves) or EMP weapons to attack telecom, radio/television and power networks or traffic control, financial systems, computer networks, etc. Reportedly, according to the Wall Street Journal, a study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warns that a terrorist attack that destroys just 9 key transformer substations could cause a nationwide blackout lasting 18 months.
There are several reasons why the threat against civil systems has to be taken with great seriousness. One is, of course, the seemingly never-ending increase of electronics in all types of systems, including mission- and safety-critical systems such as aircraft flight control systems and anti-locking braking systems of modern cars.
Another reason is that in many cases, contrary to the military scenario, it is possible for the perpetrator to come close to the system under attack. This means that the terrorist need not to have access to military HPM weapons, it will suffice to get hold of e.g. a radar transmitter or even (if the distance is very short) simple “home-built” devices.
Finally, another very important reason for the concern is the fact that most civil equipment essentially lacks immunity requirements against this type of threat.