This is part 3 of a four-part series about EMP’s and the catastrophic results they can cause.
Part 3, Nuclear Detonation as a Source of EMP’s
The following statement bears repeating again:
“The high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and could result in the defeat of our military forces.”
In a nuclear EMP attack, the damage to power lines, supervisory control and data acquisition control systems (for utility systems infrastructure), and commercial computers would very likely be permanent due to fused power lines and lost data which would require replacing the entire electric system in the affected area. One estimate warns that the likely costs from the detonation of an EMP weapon over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area could exceed$770 billion. Millions of Americans could suffer death or injury, and social chaos could ensue.
Besides the domestic consequences of an EMP attack, it would also be difficult for the U.S. to organize a coherent retaliatory strike against the aggressor. While some parts of our military have been hardened against EMPs, not all systems are – in fact, most are not. America’s armed forces may simply be too unprepared for an attack, or our national devastation could prove too distracting.
If a nuclear warhead is detonated in orbit, there is a strong potential for substantial damage to U.S. and other satellites as well as any spacecraft in use at the time of the explosion. The military applications of such satellites are critical for defense systems that rely on GPS guidance, such as ballistic missiles and many conventional military strike weapons. The adverse impact on U.S. space-based communications, early-warning assets, fire-control systems, overhead sensors and imagery, and geospatial intelligence would be substantial as well.
Near-term recovery could prove nearly impossible because of America’s dependence on extensive transportation networks and other electricity-powered infrastructures. America’s infrastructure is highly interconnected, as was demonstrated during the Northeast Blackout of 2003. A problem in one part of the country can translate into problems across the United States, contributing immensely to lives lost and property destroyed during an EMP attack.
Is North Korea a real threat?
North Korea has demonstrated the ability to build a nuclear device and the ability to insert a satellite into orbit.
“North Korea in December, 2012, successfully orbited a satellite weighing 220 pounds – so they could deliver against the United States, or against any nation on Earth, a small nuclear warhead,” said Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who served as staff director on the commission that looked into the effects of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, on the national electrical grid system and other critical U.S. infrastructures.
Pry’s comments echo those of former U.S. Ambassador Henry Cooper, in which he said that North Korea could launch a nuclear weapon on a satellite, similar to the ones that North Korea has previously launched southward over the South Pole.
“After all,” Cooper said in an interview with WND (World Net Daily), “their previous satellites have been successfully placed in orbits that are optimum for executing an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack on the entire continental U.S. with a single nuclear burst.”
Read the complete article here: “North Korean EMP attack ‘unstoppable.’”
Cooper pointed out that a satellite carrying a nuclear warhead could be detonated at an altitude of 300 miles. With a detonation over Omaha, he said, it would blanket the entire continental United States with line-of-sight EMP effects, the consequences of which could, within a year, lead to the death of hundreds of millions of Americans and end our way of life. At an altitude of 300 miles, much of Canada and Mexico would also be affected.
“Our current defense is focused on an attack from the north (we anticipated Russia as the source) but if the attack came from the south via satellite, it might not be capable of intercepting the satellite before North Korea detonates its device,” Cooper warned.
“Moreover,” he added, “where there are disputes about whether North Korean ballistic missiles launched in a normal ballistic trajectory have sufficient range to reach the U.S. mainland; there can be no dispute about whether a nuclear weapon on a satellite can be detonated on orbit above the United States.”
North Korea needs only one ICBM capable of delivering a single nuclear warhead in order to pose an existential threat to the U.S.
EMP effects can be made even more powerful and more catastrophic by using an Enhanced Radiation Warhead. This is a low-yield nuclear weapon designed not to create a devastating explosion, but to emit large amounts of radiation, including the gamma rays that generate the Super-EMP effect that overloads and “fries” electronics.
In summer 2004, a delegation of Russian generals warned the Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission that secrets had leaked to North Korea that would help them to build a decisive new nuclear weapon – a Super-EMP warhead.
Both previous North Korean nuclear tests look suspiciously like a Super-EMP weapon. A Super-EMP warhead would have a low yield, like the North Korean device, because it is not designed to create a big explosion, but to convert its energy into gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect.
Reportedly South Korean military intelligence concluded (independent of the EMP Commission) that Russian scientists are in North Korea helping develop a Super-EMP warhead. In 2012, a military commentator for the People’s Republic of China stated that North Korea has Super-EMP nuclear warheads.
A Super-EMP warhead would not weigh much, and could probably be delivered by North Korea’s ICBM. The missile does not have to be accurate, as the EMP field is so large that detonating anywhere over the United States would have catastrophic consequences. The warhead does not even need a re-entry vehicle, as an EMP attack entails detonating the warhead at high-altitude, above the atmosphere.
Nuclear EMPs, a Triple Whammy
EMP radiation come in three different forms, classified as E1, E2, and E3 and they propagate instantaneously – at the speed of light.
E1 pulses are by far the most devastating, and the ones that are most apt to affect planes, automobiles, etc. They result from gamma radiation emitted from a nuclear detonation that removes electrons from the surrounding air. These electrons blast into the Earth’s magnetic field and are forced down towards the planet. This process creates a very strong pulse aimed directly at the surface that carries enough strength to exceed the breakdown voltages of many electronic devices. E1 pulses are not produced by solar storms, only nuclear detonations.
It is important to note that E1 pulses are only produced by a detonation that is significantly high enough in altitude to allow electrons to interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists say that approximately 300 miles is the optimum altitude for maximum effect over North America.
E2 pulses are also caused by gamma radiation and follow within in a fraction of a second of anE1 pulse, and are akin to those produced by lightning bolts (so they would be protected bytypical surge protectors). Comparatively, the E2 pulses are almost benign.
The final pulse, an E3, is different in nature from the previous two in that it results from a shifting of the Earth’s magnetic field, and would continue until the magnetic field re-settled; similar to what occurs with a solar flare. E3 pulses are the only type generated during solar CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) storms.
The E3 EMP is the one that most directly threatens long-line power delivery systems and their high voltage transformers. The E3 pulse is low frequency pulse which, unlike the high frequency E1 and E2 pulses, can penetrate the ground, where it can induce substantial electric currents in very long (over 100 kilometers long) buried cables.
A “mini” Catastrophe.
Put aside for a moment the consideration of a full-scale ICBM launch to a 300 mile altitude, even a smaller “mini” EMP attack could do immense damage to the U.S., affecting two-thirds of the country.
Dr. Pry pointed to the July 22, 2013 discovery of components for Soviet-designed Cuban SA-2s (surface-to-air missiles) – on a North Korean freighter in the Panama Canal.
This nuclear-capable missile, he warned, could cause the total collapse of the Eastern grid if exploded at a high altitude off the Eastern seaboard, including the Gulf of Mexico.
Detonation of one “super-EMP” nuclear warhead on one of the SA-2s would effectively knock out the Eastern grid which services 70 percent of the U.S. population, he said.
Is North Korea a real threat? Should we take their threats seriously? How can we not?
How About Iran and Others?
“Iran openly talks about using an EMP to attack Israel or the US,” said the aforementioned Dr. Pry.
According to Pry, Iran is actively preparing for an EMP attack. “Tehran has undertaken offshore exercises using Scud missiles fired and positioned in such a way that they exploded in the atmosphere – exactly the method you would use for an EMP attack,” he said.
Iran test fired its 800 mi range Shahab-3 ballistic missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea. Iran detonated missiles at the top of their trajectory during those tests. Iran is known to be designing a nuclear bomb trigger. Iran also is working on fitting the container for a nuclear bomb into the nose cone of a Shahab-3 missile.
Iran is believed to have now or in less than a year, sufficient enriched uranium for one or two fission nuclear bombs.
Even Terrorists Can Get into the Game
If terrorists do obtain a nuclear weapon, it will likely not be a one-kiloton weapon but a far more sophisticated one from Russia or a rogue state.
The assistance from Russia has likely enabled North Korea to make (and perhaps test) “Super-EMP” low-yield nuclear weapons that can generate very powerful EMP fields over wide geographic areas.
Even a low-yield weapon could knock out the entire Eastern seaboard if detonated from a higher altitude than the 40-kilometer (just under 25 miles) level needed for minimum EMP field results.
In addition, terrorists wouldn’t even need a long-range missile to deliver an EMP attack; they could instead launch a short- or medium-range missile from a freighter outside U.S. territorial waters. The attack would leave no “fingerprints,” since medium-range missile “signatures” are virtually identical and EMP trajectories are so short. In that case, at whom could we direct a retaliatory strike?
An EMP attack would cause cascading failures in other critical infrastructures and a likely national blackout. These conclusions are based on tests showing that E1 high-EMP simulators couple well to electric grid distribution power lines and low-voltage cables. Scientists point out that “electronic control systems are effectively the Achilles’ heel of our power delivery network.”
Potential U.S. Adversaries, including Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran now have the capability to threaten America and the world with EMP genocide. This new menace changes the whole strategic calculus of risk for the United States in upholding its role as a superpower, and can even further erode the confidence of our allies in our ability to protect them.
Are we prepared to accept possible nuclear “blackmail” by the unstable regimes in North Korea and Iran? They both perceive themselves to be at war with the United States, and are desperate, highly unpredictable characters. Both have the technical knowledge and the proven capability to deliver a nuclear-detonated EMP (or worse, a Super-EMP) to our skies.
For nearly a decade the Congressional EMP Commission and other major U.S. Government studies have been warning about the catastrophic consequences of an EMP attack from Iran, North Korea, China, Russia or their terrorist proxies; a story unreported by the Obama administration or the mainstream media.
The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS and the other usual suspects apparently are not interested.
Continue to Part 4: Is There Anything We Can Do?