Enemy developments of non-nuclear EMP weapons remain a significant threat to the U.S.

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As you likely already know, some foreign countries like Russia, China, and North Korea, for example, are not necessarily on good terms with the United States anymore and continue to undermine U.S. democracy. With that, it’s safe to say that these adversaries have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to advanced weaponry that threatens the homeland. 

Non-nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (NNEMP) weaponry is nothing new and has been on the battlefield for decades. However, the U.S. military has been asleep at the wheel regarding this sort of technology, which has given enemies the upper hand in today’s modern world where just about everything is reliant on electronics to function. Such technology can be devastating and can send large cities or even an entire country rapidly into the stone age if deployed. 

Air Force Chief General Charles Brown is someone who sees the full scope of the threat and realizes that the U.S. military-industrial complex has dropped the ball when it comes to NNEMP weapons development and production. 

“Let me be clear, the U.S. Air Force is committed to providing Electromagnetic Spectrum,” Tweeted the Air Force Chief General in late January 2021. “If we keep doing things the way we have, incrementally changing, it will not be Accelerate Change or Lose … it’ll just be lose.”

Brown maintains that the U.S. is twenty-five to thirty years behind its adversaries in developing NNEMP technology that can strike or counter-strike our enemies abroad. Not to mention, certain U.S. military facilities and installations are powered by unhardened sources of energy, making a recipe for disaster. That’s why the Air Force University formed an Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (EDTF).

The EDTF published a report in 2018 that states, “IT’S TIME FOR BOLD ACTION.” This report is essential and reiterates the challenges the U.S. faces from adversaries like the Russians, who have been using NNEMP weapons since the 1960s. 

Some of the EDTF’s concerns point to the vulnerability of U.S. military installations.

“… military installations represent the vulnerable underbelly of the defense enterprise,” reads an excerpt from the report. 

“… even organizations like USSTRATCOM that have kept up with hardening requirements since the end of the Cold War might not meet mission challenges due to structural and system dependencies which rely on unhardened sources of electricity.”

Additionally, the report states that “an EMP would cause instantaneous and simultaneous loss of many technologies reliant on electrical power and computer circuit boards, such as cell phones and GPS devices.”

“certain EMS vulnerabilities are not novel: ‘Don’t regard EMP as a hard to understand newly discovered effect.’… our collective knowledge on EMS phenomena is the lowest point in recent history while the risks and threats are possibly the highest given the nature of widening knowledge and capability.”

“… where EMS damage is severe enough, equipment may be permanently incapacitated. These kinds of vulnerabilities require planners to think creatively about mission essentials.”

“… well known EMP, GMD [geomagnetic disturbances] and other EMS phenomena do not directly cause harm to humans, some effects can be extremely dangerous and potentially deadly.”

Moreover, the Russians have developed what the state press is calling an EMP cannon. However, a more convenient delivery method for an EMP would be through a nuclear detonation, possibly above the skyline of a major city. The effects would be crippling.

“When the nuke is detonated low to the ground, an electromagnetic pulse is one effect of many, limited in range and whose effect is largely overshadowed by the fire and death of the nuclear blast,” Forbes reported in 2020. “When the nuke is detonated at high altitude, in the lower reaches of space, the pulse can travel quite a distance, though the effect is mitigated by hardening of second-strike nuclear weapons and the almost certain nuclear retaliation that would follow.”

Another thing worth mentioning is that a Russian EMP cannon is more like a microwave weapon. The enemy can use it to target humans directly, as in the Havana, Cuba case in which targeted American officials suffered physical harm to their health. To boot, these types of weapons have a documented range of 10 km

“At present, the average range of EMP cannons against aerial targets is 7-8 km, with the maximum of 10 km,” one of the sources said, adding that the range of such weapons was previously estimated at 1-2 km,” a source reportedly told TASS, a Russian news agency.

A second source reportedly told TASS that “airborne targets can be destroyed at the distance of 10 km, because their on-board equipment burns down.”

But it’s not just Russia that is a threat. North Korea is in the game and could have big plans in store for the Continental United States. 

According to a report published by The Cypher Brief, a North Korean attack on America is a major “existential threat.”

“An EMP attack does not require an accurate guidance system because the area of effect, having a radius of hundreds or thousands of kilometers, is so large,” writes Peter Pry for the publication. “No re-entry vehicle is needed because the warhead is detonated at high-altitude, above the atmosphere. Missile reliability matters little because only one missile has to work in order for an EMP attack against an entire nation to be effective.”

North Korea could launch an attack against the CONUS using an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) or by firing a short-range missile from a submarine or ballon. The results would be devastating. 

Enemies can also use a satellite to launch a gravity well attack on the U.S. from above, allowing a nuclear device to explode some 30 km. 

“North Korea’s KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites were launched to the south on polar trajectories and passed over the United States on their first orbit,” according to Pry. “Pyongyang launched KMS-4 on February 7, 2017, shortly after its fourth illegal nuclear test on January 6, 2017, that began the present protracted nuclear crisis with Pyongyang.”

The bottom line is that non-nuclear EMP weapons can wreak havoc on an aspiring country when it’s least expected.

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