Joining Sen. John Kyl, who warned of how an electromagnetic pulse attack threatens U.S. survival, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, chairman of the House Projection Forces Subcommittee, says an EMP attack — even by an underfunded, unsophisticated terrorist group — has the potential to cripple U.S. society.
“Today we are very much concerned … about asymmetric weapons,” said Bartlett. “We are a big, powerful country. Nobody can contend with us shoulder-to-shoulder, face-to-face. So all of our potential adversaries are looking for what we refer to as asymmetric weapons. That is a weapon that overcomes our superior capabilities. There is no asymmetric weapon that has anywhere near the potential of EMP.”
EMP attacks are generated when a nuclear weapon is detonated at altitudes above a few dozen kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The explosion, of even a small nuclear warhead, would produce a set of electromagnetic pulses that interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field.
“These electromagnetic pulses propagate from the burst point of the nuclear weapon to the line of sight on the Earth’s horizon, potentially covering a vast geographic region in doing so simultaneously, moreover, at the speed of light,” said Dr. Lowell Wood, acting chairman of the commission appo9inted by Congress to study the threat. “For example, a nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 400 kilometers over the central United States would cover, with its primary electromagnetic pulse, the entire continent of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.”
The commission, in its work over a period of several years, found that EMP is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold American society seriously at risk and that might also result in the defeat of U.S. military forces.
“The electromagnetic field pulses produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics and information systems upon which any reasonably advanced society, most specifically including our own, depend vitally,” Wood said. “Their effects on systems and infrastructures dependent on electricity and electronics could be sufficiently ruinous as to qualify as catastrophic to the American nation.”
The commission concluded in its report to Congress earlier this year: “EMP is one of a small number of threats that may hold at risk the continued existence of today’s U.S. civil society.”
“The number of U.S. adversaries capable of EMP attack is greater than during the Cold War,” said Bartlett. “We may look back with some fondness on the Cold War. We then had only one potential adversary. We knew him quite well.”
Bartlett pointed out that Iran has tested launching of a Scud missile from a surface vessel, “a launch mode that could support a national or transnational EMP attack against the United States.”
“Iran has conducted tests with its Shahab-3 missile that have been described as failures by the Western media because the missiles did not complete their ballistic trajectories, but were deliberately exploded at high altitude,” he said. “This, of course, would be exactly what you would want to do if you were going to use an EMP weapon. Iran described these tests as successful. We said they were a failure because they blew up in flight. They described them as successful. Of course, they would be, if Iran’s intent was practicing for an EMP attack.”…