"A website with close ties to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has outlined why it would be acceptable to kill all Jews and annihilate Israel."
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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- Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks: The Heritage Foundation's Research
- Area Effected by an Electromagnetic Pulse, by Height of Burst
- Critical National Infrastructures
- Video: Space Nuclear Weapon Test
- Video: Nuclear Explosion in the Sky
- America's Vulnerability to a Different Kind of Threat: An Electromagnetic Pulse
- The Notes of Dr. Carl E. Baum
- Public Opinion on the Likelihood of an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack
- Time for an EMP Recognition Day
- Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization