Perhaps the most terrifying threat to the US from other nations is that posed by an EMP attack. In an earlier article we explained how an EMP attack could destroy all the electronics in the US, literally sending us back almost to the stone age, in a fraction of a second.
There is no effective defense against an EMP attack; there’s nothing we can do in our homes to protect against the effects of an EMP detonation, a thousand or more miles away. It may be possible to stockpile spare electronics, stored in special Faraday Cage type containers, so as to reduce the damaging effects of an EMP on the devices stored inside, but pretty much any electronics that are not stored that way, whether they are switched on or not at the time, are vulnerable and liable to be destroyed by an EMP.
Note that Faraday cages are not perfect barriers to EMP radiation. They should be thought of as something like soundproofing – soundproofing panels quieten outside noises, but loud sounds can still be heard, and very loud sounds can still be bothersome. It is the same with Faraday cages, and ‘best practice’ seems to suggest having nested Faraday cages, one inside the other (inside the other), which is analogous to having multiple layers of soundproofing panels.
As we said in our earlier article, the devastating impact of an EMP attack, and the near impossibility of protecting against it, surely make this a very attractive weapon, particularly for countries much smaller than the US – countries which have no chance of winning any type of conventional war against us. We’ve no idea who would win and who would lose (probably both nations would lose) if we ended up in a high intensity conflict against Russia or China, and surely a nuclear war against these powers would guarantee that all combatants would suffer appalling losses. On the other hand, we are certain we would prevail if in a conventional war with, for example, India or Pakistan or Iran or North Korea.
So what should a country that wishes us ill, or who simply wishes to have a credible threat to use as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table, do? These small countries have no ability to create the economic and personnel elements of a credible conventional threat, but perhaps they can instead spend a relatively small amount of money to create an EMP type weapon that instantly gives the country that developed it an equality of force with us.
Indeed, the EMP device probably gives other countries the upper hand. Iran or North Korea, for example, have predominantly low tech and low energy based economies. The sudden loss of electronics and electricity would not be as damaging for such countries as it would be for the United States. Sure, it would be harmful, but it wouldn’t be associated with the complete destruction of society that such an attack would have on the US.
So, is it any surprise then to read, in this article, that North Korea is believed to be developing EMP weapons – indeed, the article refers to a new type of super-EMP bomb. This is an EMP device designed to get past the usual ‘limit’ of EMP field intensity which is typically caused when the atmosphere gets saturated with EMP related particles.
A super-EMP bomb might potentially have two to five times greater impact than a regular one, meaning that so-called ‘hardened’ devices which can resist certain moderate EMF strengths from regular EMP bombs may also be destroyed, and devices stored in Faraday cages may also be damaged or destroyed, too. A super-EMP bomb does not necessarily have any more range, just greater power within its existing range, but seeing as how a single EMP bomb is almost sufficient, in itself, to take out the entire US, range is not so much an issue.
Talking about range, that points to one error in the article. The article talks about North Korea potentially using an EMP device against South Korea. Unless it were to be a conventionally powered device with weak limited range and directional output, this is very unlikely, because a nuclear powered EMP device would almost certainly destroy all of North Korea’s electronics too.
An EMP weapon, while perhaps not much use against South Korea, definitely would be transformational in terms of North Korea’s ability to ‘punch above its weight’ on the world stage.
The news item concludes with a massive understatement quote from an EMP expert, who says
Rogue states or terrorists armed with a single nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude over the United States could cause a protracted blackout nationwide, that would last months or years and might even be unrecoverable.
Note that Bill Gertz’ columns in the Washington Times are generally considered to be very authoritative, and often represent unofficial statements from senior US military officials who wish to leak information.