Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)

What comes to mind when thinking about possible attacks on the United States? For most people images of a nuclear missile or another terrorist attack are conjured up. But, there are a variety of possible methods of attack -- of which an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a particularly devastating example.

In its executive report, the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse warns, "Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems." Basically the report tells us what we already know from experiencing a day or two without power following a summer thunderstorm or winter ice coating: we need electricity to function as we do now. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), released from a detonated nuclear weapon high in the atmosphere, could temporarily disable nearly all electrical systems in a geographic area larger than the United States. And by estimated scenarios “temporarily” is not one or two days. It could last several months or even years. America’s power grid is incredibly massive, but also incredibly interconnected. This leaves our electrical infrastructure quite vulnerable.

EMP attacks are particularly dangerous for several reasons. First, the materials necessary for a small mechanism are relatively easy to obtain, and it is not difficult to construct. Also, it would be hard to detect an individual in possession of a small EMP. A larger weapon has the advantage of a large target area. Perfect accuracy with an EMP is not necessary. Further, because it is not directly harmful to human life, retaliation is less likely. Finally, given that terrorist groups and nations in developing countries are less dependent on a massive electrical grid than the United States, the idea of an EMP attack might be particularly attractive to states such as North Korea and Iran. Even a small EMP attack would at least cause significant economic damage, especially if detonated in a populous area. A larger attack has the potential to be catastrophic.

But how likely is an EMP attack? At this point, the technology for a large-scale attack is very young. Most believe that nations such as Iran and North Korea do not have the technology yet. And some even claim that a future attack is very unlikely. But others argue, for the reasons given above, that this threat is much more real than a nuclear-armed ICBM landing on American soil. Proponents of a missile defense system point to this threat as further evidence that such a system is vital for American security.

In addition to the threat from rogue states, China and Russia have been building up EMP programs. Some experts postulate that this renewed effort could prompt another arms race. Recent political tensions between the U.S. and these countries have only increased these worries. Additionally, recent strings of cyber-attacks on American corporations and official government websites have led to speculations about a foreign, state-sponsored actor. Though the origins of most of these cyber-attacks remain officially unknown, accusations and diplomatic strains have grown over the last several years.

Despite ample warning from many reliable sources, including both the Space Commission and the EMP Commission, little has been done since the collapse of the Soviet Union to defend the United States against an EMP attack. Many have argued that America is woefully unprepared. This topic will address some of the ideas that may protect the United States from such an attack. It will also look more closely at the capabilities of opposing nations, the possible delivery systems (including an EMP attack from the sun), and the potential aftermath of an attack.

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In light of the growing threat of an EMP attack, Ken Timmerman looks how the U.S. preparedness. While the population is becoming more informed on the issue, Timmerman notices that the government has remained rather silent. If an attack were to happen tomorrow, he says, the America will have few immediate responses. Weather or not you believe it to be the government's responsibility,...

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Instructions demonstrating how individuals can build their own electromagnetic pulse guns.

"In addition to other effects, a nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth's atmosphere or alternatively an E-Bomb (see below) can create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical field. EMP acts like a stroke of lightning but is stronger, faster and briefer. EMP can seriously damage electronic devices connected to power sources or antennas. This include[s] communication...

"Most Americans—whether members of the public or politicians in Congress—ignore or are unaware of the very real threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. A nuclear device detonated high in the atmosphere above the American mainland can easily disable the country’s electrical grid—shutting down nearly all communications, transportation, and service systems. Overnight, daily life as...

"America is totally unprepared for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would set civilization back to the 1800s, Dr. William Graham, who was chairman of the bipartisan congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, tells Newsmax.

The blame rests with both Democrats and Republicans.

'It was a failure in the last administration; it’s a...

"The fact that an electromagnetic pulse is produced by a nuclear explosion was known since the very first days of nuclear weapons testing, but the magnitude of the EMP and the significance of its effects were not realized for some time.

During the first United States nuclear test in 1945, electronic equipment was shielded due to Enrico Fermi's expectation of an electromagnetic pulse...

"Enrico Fermi was born in Rome on 29th September, 1901, the son of Alberto Fermi, a Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Communications, and Ida de Gattis. He attended a local grammar school, and his early aptitude for mathematics and physics was recognized and encouraged by his father's colleagues, among them A. Amidei. In 1918, he won a fellowship of the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. He...

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"Create a small transient Electromagnetic Pulse Generator with high voltages using simple household objects, which can be potentially dangerous unless great care is exercised throughout."

"We are not prepared for an electromagnetic pulse attack. Iran is almost prepared to launch one."

"Pentagon estimates show that Iran could have missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States by the year 2015.

If the Iranians acquire a nuclear bomb, they might be able to cripple their 'Great Satan' even sooner through an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack off America's coastline."

"Recent reports indicate Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2015, if not earlier. What has been largely ignored is Iran’s ability to acquire an equally destructive device, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and I recently penned an article describing how Iran can achieve its destructive ends — 'a world without...

A speech and discussion with Mike Moore, author of Twilight War, in which he discusses United States' policy on space weaponry, and his hypothesis that we are heading for a second arms race, this time in space.

"North Korea announced plans Friday to blast a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket, a provocative move that could jeopardize a weeks-old agreement with the U.S. exchanging food aid for nuclear concessions."

With North Korea's massive military budget, its weapons development has far exceeded what many believed it was capable of. The rogue nation created its first nuclear weapon in 2006 and are now believed to possess the technology necessary for creating a massive EMP attack.

"A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. These electrons are then trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. This current is asymmetric in general...

"The sky erupts. Cities darken, food spoils and homes fall silent. Civilization collapses.

End-of-the-world novel? A video game? Or could such a scenario loom in America's future?

There is talk of catastrophe ahead, depending on whom you believe, because of the threat of an electromagnetic pulse triggered by either a supersized solar storm or terrorist A-bomb, both capable of...

"Questions about the plausibility of an alleged special electromagnetic pulse nuclear weapon that could someday wipe out modern U.S. society by damaging or destroy its electrical system cannot be publicly addressed because the answers are classified, a U.S. expert said Wednesday."

"A nuclear bomb detonated high above the United States could unleash an electromagnetic pulse that would shut down the nation's power grid and, along with it, communications, water supplies and even food transportation.

If the effect is long-lasting enough, it also could trigger a social collapse that could conceivably cause the deaths of millions of people and, temporarily, push the...

"China's military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against U.S. aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report."

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An attack by a single Iranian nuclear missile could have a catastrophic impact on the United States by causing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) over a portion of the country.

President Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech where he outlined his plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). America faces another threat, one that requires Congress’s immediate attention: an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

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Chart or Graph

Map showing the extent of the effects of an EMP blast as it relates to the height of the explosion.

A graph detailing the area affected by an EMP at differing heights.

"What if the May 1921 superstorm occurred today? A US map of vulnerable transformers with areas of probable system collapse encircled."

"The project provided a platform for a nuclear device and measurement instrumentation at a pressure altitude of 85,000 feet (16-1/2 millibars) by means of a large plastic balloon."

"This is an example of what happens to circuits when an electromagnetic pulse is sent through a wire. The explosion (A) expands the tube, short circuiting the coil and compressing the magnetic field forward (B). The pulse is then emitted at high frequencies, and the electronic device is blown out to the point of no repair."

"In a typical coaxial FCG , a cylindrical copper tube forms the armature. This tube is filled with a fast high energy explosive."

"The final major component of EMP is a subsequent, slower-rising, longer-duration pulse that creates disruptive currents in long electricity transmission lines, resulting in damage to electrical supply and distribution systems connected to such lines (Figure 3)."

"It is useful to focus on three major EMP components. ..."

This chart provides an overview of the types and ranges of missiles Iran possesses.

Moms and members of Gen-Y were given the following information on EMP's and asked to give their opinion on the likelihood of it occurring.

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"Illustration above is from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency about the E1 component of nuclear electromagnetic pulse."

"Scenario showing effects of a 4800 nT/min geomagnetic field disturbance at 50° geomagnetic latitude scenario."

When a survey group consisting of Moms and individuals from Gen-Y was asked about their greatest national security concern, America's dependency on foreign oil was one of the highest.

Analysis Report White Paper

Because the most likely vehicles for delivering such a nuclear device above the atmosphere are ballistic missiles, the most prudent method of protecting America from EMP attacks would be a missile defense system that could destroy a ballistic missile before it reaches U.S. airspace.

While, in general terms, the asymmetrical threat concept describes how the weak might battle the strong, discussions diverge when discussing asymmetrical threats from states versus those posed by non-state actors.

"An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) over the United States could end modern life in America overnight. Whether caused by an enemy attack (a nuclear device detonated above the atmosphere) or by a natural phenomenon (a geomagnetic storm), an EMP can cause entire regions of the country to lose electricity—permanently."

Presentation outlining the effects and potential origins of an EMP attack.

"On April 8, a front page article was published in the Wall Street Journal on the dangers posed by cyberspies to the U.S. electrical grid. According to senior intelligence officers who spoke with the Journal, 'Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system.' No action has been taken so far to disrupt the electrical...

This article describes the potential disaster that could take place if an EMP were to hit the United States. The authors describe how it would not be that difficult for rogue terrorist states to acquire the technology, as it is not that expensive or complex.

"The cost of damage from the most extreme solar event has been estimated at $1 to $2 trillion with a recovery time of four to ten years, ... while the average yearly cost of installing equipment to mitigate an EMP event is estimated at less than 20 cents per year for the average residential customer."

In this paper, Mr. Gaffney summarizes the conclusions reached by the Commission to Address the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. He describes how an EMP attack might take place, what sort of effect it would have, and what America can do to protect itself from such an attack.

Few people stop to consider what would happen if, in an instant, the magic went away. If our advanced technology were suddenly and completely destroyed, how would we manage to survive? A nuclear EMP could make the magic go away.

An extensive overview of the history of EMP testing and United States policy, taking references from the EMP commission report, Russian testing etc.

The vulnerabilities of both civilian and military electrical devices are in need of improved protection against a potential EMP attack.

The U.S. Army War College held a three-day workshop on dealing with threats, such as EMP or cyber attacks, that could impact the electrical grid, which is critical to national defense.

Over the past decade, governments have collaborated on reforming disaster management approaches. On 6 November 2008, the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management—Emergency Management agreed that the future direction for Australian emergency management should be based on achieving community and organisational resilience.

"The topic of nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is very mysterious to most people, and it is quite commonly misunderstood. It is also the subject of a large amount of misinformation."

"This paper describes what an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is and how a nuclear weapon creates a HEMP. Next, a brief description of the effect of a HEMP attack on electrical and electronic systems is followed by an overview of the implications of the failure of these systems on the nation’s critical infrastructure and elements of national power."

This report presents the results of the Commission’s assessment of the effects of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on our critical national infrastructures and provides recommendations for their mitigation.

"Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication."

"Modern society depends heavily on a variety of technologies that are susceptible to the extremes of space weather—severe disturbances of the upper atmosphere and of the near-Earth space environment that are driven by the magnetic activity of the Sun."

National security must be one component of total U.S. space policy, but it must certainly not be the primary component.

This report provides a variety of charts and statistics gleaned from a survey of Moms and individuals from Generation Y. The research gives a glimpse into some of the deepest concerns American citizens are facing in 2011, including the economy and national security.

Space warfare will be an integrated part of battle planning by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in any future conflict.

High Power Electromagnetic Pulse generation techniques and High Power Microwave technology have matured to the point where practical E-bombs (Electromagnetic bombs) are becoming technically feasible, with new applications in both Strategic and Tactical Information Warfare.

This paper discusses aspects of the technology base, weapon delivery techniques and proposes a doctrinal foundation for the use of such devices in warhead and bomb applications.

National security experts have known about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) for decades, at least since the atomic bombs were used at the end of World War II. During the Cold War, we thought about it primarily in terms of ensuring the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, so we hardened a large number of our military systems in order to operate in a nuclear environment.

"A known and cataclysmic threat to the U.S. electric power grid is being largely ignored by the President and Congress. Warning events in 1859, 1921, 1989, and 2003 showed the danger that solar activity can pose to electrical power and distribution systems. Now as we move into another solar maximum, with increased vulnerabilities built into our electrical grid, the danger again looms large. In...

Video/Podcast/Media

"STARFISH PRIME, was one of the high-altitude nuclear tests in the Operation Fishbowl series conducted in the Pacific Proving Ground in 1962. It was launched in the Johnston Island area to an altitude of about 400 kilometers by a Thor rocket and had a yield of 1.4 megatons.

The test evaluated the capabilities of an antiballistic missile to operate in a nuclear environment and the...

"Explorer investigates the science behind the dangers of a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse, or HEMP."

This video provides a variety of common sense preparations and solutions that can be implemented by the U.S. in the event of an EMP attack.

Dr. James Carafano, National Security Analyst, discusses the very real risk of an EMP attack on the United States and the devastating consequences it would cause in a segment from 33 Minutes.

"Joe Hicks brings you the startling facts relating to the possible development of EMP weapons by North Korea and Iran. A single electromagnetic pulse could disable the entire United States, destroy America's critical infrastructure and reduce the US to a state of starvation and anarchy overnight. If you think this sounds like science fiction, then watch this Joe Hicks report and find out why...

"Second part of FutureWeapons Series 1 story about the threat of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse weapon."

This video features a panel of young people who discuss their reaction to the possibility of an EMP attack.

"Step inside the eye of a solar storm and the measures scientists take to predict them."

What might it be able to do to Earth and is the U.S. prepared?

This video shows the reactions of young moms to a presentation on the negative effects an EMP attack could have on America.

Explore what could happen when a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) occurs and cripples our electrical grid.

This video shows a nuclear warhead detonating above the earth's atmosphere.

A graphic, disturbing film about the effects of a devastating nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas.

Primary Document

"Various types of explosive flux compression generators are illustrated and their relative advantages are compared. Experiments are described in which energy was supplied by these generators. The experiments were selected to show both versatility and limitations of the devices. Generator principles are derived from lumped parameter circuit theory."

The appropriate response to the EMP threat is a balance of prevention, planning, training, maintaining situational awareness, protection, and preparations for recovery.

It concludes that the United States is at risk of a 'Space Pearl Harbor' and should update defense systems and deterrence capabilities to adapt to this new type of warfare.

This report presents the results of the Commission's assessment of the effects of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on our critical national infrastructures and provides recommendations for their mitigation.

The head of EMP Commission gave this speech before congress, warning that the threat of an EMP attack is higher than during the Cold War, and the potential catastrophe worsens every year as we grow more dependent on technology.

"(a) In General- The Director of National Intelligence shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report--
(1) on the research, development, testing, and deployment programs of foreign countries relating to--
(A) electromagnetic pulse weapons;
(B) delivery systems for EMP weapons; and
(C) platforms for carrying EMP weapons delivery systems; and
(2...

"NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to 'load up' the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-...

"Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is an instantaneous, intense energy field that can overload or disrupt at a distance numerous electrical systems and high technology microcircuits, which are especially sensitive to power surges. A large scale EMP effect can be produced by a single nuclear explosion detonated high in the atmosphere. This method is referred to as High-Altitude EMP (HEMP). A similar...

"(a) Requirements- The Secretary shall--
(1) by not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this section, establish requirements for how basic and applied homeland security research shall be identified, prioritized, funded, tasked, and evaluated by the Directorate of Science and Technology, including the roles and responsibilities of the Under Secretary for Science and...

North Korea's major motive appears to be to escalate pressure on the Bush Administration to negotiate a nuclear agreement that would provide new U.S. political and economic benefits to North Korea, starting with Pyongyang's proposed non-aggression pact.

It "provides the basic framework on international space law." The launching of a HEMP into Outer Space would violate this treaty.

The United States must not permit an EMP attack to defeat its capability to prevail. It is not practical to protect all of the tactical forces of the US and its coalition partners from EMP in a regional conflict.

"Our hearing today is on 'Terrorism and the EMP Threat to Homeland Security.' Let me indicate that conflicts of interest keep some of my colleagues from being here right now, though several indicated that they were going to try to stop by. The record of the hearing, of course, will be very important. Unfortunately, a conference of Republicans was called, there is a vote going on right now, and...

"A BILL To amend the Federal Power Act to protect the bulk-power system and electric infrastructure critical to the defense and well-being of the United States against natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse ('EMP') threats and vulnerabilities."

"The subcommittee is meeting here today to explore in more detail EMP effects on our military systems and the civilian infrastructure, how confident we are that we can predict these effects, our potential vulnerabilities, what policies and practices guide our efforts to protect our systems, and the steps we have taken and can take to ameliorate these vulnerabilities.

EMP can be...

Study conducted researching the potential threat of an attack on US information systems and computer technology via Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons.

"Recently a Senate Judiciary subcommittee of which I am chairman held a hearing on a major threat to the American people, one that could come not only from terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda but from rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea.

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the American homeland, said one of the distinguished scientists who testified at the hearing, is...

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Is the threat of an EMP a legitimate concern? What kind of infrastructural damage is an EMP capable of? How long would the consequences of such an attack last? All these questions and more will be answered in this FAQ.

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