National Security

Short-Circuiting the EMP Report

A commission of officials from 40 agencies produced a sobering report that concluded that an electromagnetic pulse weapon attack could kill 90 percent of the population of the East Coast and displace millions of people. Some of the statistics included 99 meltdowns of nuclear reactors, crashing or unusable military and civilian jets, massive civil unrest, long-term loss of electrical power (due to loss of emergency generators), sewage, fresh water, banking, landlines, cellular service, vehicles, and almost 18 months to recover.

This naturally sounds pretty scary and made headlines around the country, but the fear is worse than the reality for numerous reasons. The first clues are within the article itself. These are government agencies tasked with a particular mission to harden the power grid. Every government agent thinks their problem is the most important, and they want funding commensurate with purported danger. Granted, they presented a scenario that could come true, but the worst case here is also the least likely for the reasons below.

America has been testing EMP defense for years. During the Cold War the United States was well aware that an EMP device could detonate along with a nuclear weapon and most of the military structures were hardened decades ago. The Texas power grid is independent from the rest of the nation, which makes it uniquely suited to testing and uniquely vulnerable to attacks. Texas officials have practiced tools and techniques to stop EMP attacks. These include shielding control rooms with Faraday cages, using new grounded metallic relay houses, grounding and shielding power supply and communications cables, installing robust surge protectors/arresters, increasing use of fiber optic cables for communication, and neutral blockers for transformers. They are still assessing the cost benefit analysis of implementing all of these programs and consider EMP attacks a small risk despite the government report.

The best defenses against EMP attacks dovetail with the missile defenses designed to stop its delivery method. The United States already has robust missile defense systems against missiles, EMP or otherwise, from rogue actors like North Korea or Iran and conventional but aggressive actors like Russia and China. The United States has the best launch detection system in the world which means they have the ability to detect and even preemptively stop launches of EMP attacks. The next defense is to have an Aegis Cruiser target the missile mid-course. This is tricky as the missiles are moving at a high rate of speed, but the United States has a much better record of being on target than nations like North Korea. And the Aegis Cruisers are being upgraded with better radar systems in order to identify, track, and destroy new technologies like the hypersonic and carrier-killing missiles being developed by Russia and particularly China. This means the Aegis-capable ships such as the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have a good chance of intercepting the EMP. On top of that, the United States has terminal high altitude air defense missiles (THAAD). These are already deployed to South Korea as a proven defense against their short-range missiles. EMPs can detonate high in the air which makes them tricky, but that is where the HA part of THAAD comes in, as the counter-missiles are designed to reach high orbit and hit them before they detonate.

In short, there is still a danger from EMP attacks that must be addressed. Our country is increasingly reliant on power and advanced technological systems, and with the multitude of threats, this area often gets left on the backburner. That being said, the United States has robust defenses in place for an EMP attack, and this report seems more like fearmongering than legitimate policy prescription.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Morgan Deane

Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming book Decisive Battles in Chinese history, as well as Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon.

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