Analysts who write off the possibility of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack from North Korea as “unlikely” and “science fiction” because they believe the 10 to 20 kiloton nuclear weapons currently possessed by North Korea are incapable of making an effective EMP attack, dismiss the consensus view of “EMP experts who have advanced degrees in physics and electrical engineering along with several decades of experience in the field — with access to classified data throughout that time — and who have conducted EMP tests on a wide variety of electronic systems, beginning in 1963.” ~ Dr. William R. Graham, President Reagan’s Science Advisor and current Chairman of the EMP Commission.
Dr. Graham wrote these words in an important recent article debunking the all too often excuses for ignoring North Korea’s currently existing threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could quite literally turn out the lights in South Korea — and those that support our troops based there and stationed nearby in international waters. Click here for his complete 38 North article.
Consider the night time overhead picture of the Korean Peninsula below — China and South Korea are basked in light while the North is dark, except for pockets around cities — especially Pyongyang.
What if the lights in South Korea went out? Could that level the playing field? Or even favor the North Koreans who are more used to living “in the dark?”
North Korea could make it happen, probably with its currently existing capabilities — by a mostly ignored plausible scenario that would do much more than just balance the existence of all the people in the Korean Peninsula, because we have nearly 30,000 troops below the 38th parallel — and more at sea nearby.
Not to worry, you might say, because they have independent access to power to keep their lights on. But what if they don’t?
Moreover, North Korea recently launched a ballistic missile that could carry such a warhead on an trajectory that remained aloft for about a half hour — long enough that, if straightened out, could have reached Guam, where we have major deployment of military forces, and possibly Hawaii — maybe even our West Coast.
Click here for last Tuesday’s High Frontier message that elaborated the implications of this fact and discussed in more detail Dr. Graham’s important 38 North article and an important article by Peter Huessy, which provided a number of details about the all too real North Korean threat — especially as recognized by a growing number of our senior knowledgeable and responsible military officers, such as the commanders of US Strategic Command (USAF General John Hyten) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (US Army Lt. General Vincent Stewart).
As I pointed out in that same message, some of our most senior leaders seem to be downplaying this all too real existing threat — as illustrated by the recent trips to the region by our Secretaries of State and Defense who seemed to be more concerned about getting China to block the development of the threat — a threat that has already matured and is in fact metastasizing. As I wrote, seeking to “close the barn door after North Korea’s horses are out.”
These misperceptions persist — illustrated by the claims of some who commented on my June 9, 2017 Wall Street Journal article entitled “North Korea Dreams of Turning Out the Lights.” Click here for that article and here for a Fox News reference to it, along with a 3:41-minute video discussion of a recent North Korean salvo launch of surface-to-ship missiles and South Korea’s decision to reject the deployment of four Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense (BMD) batteries — presumably to placate China and North Korea.
Doesn’t sound like much help to me. China and North Korea are getting more of what they want than are we.
And why doesn’t South Korea want THAAD for its own protection as well as our troops? Makes some think we should consider bringing our troops home. Instead, I believe we need to develop some spine in dealing with this threat not only to our troops throughout the Pacific, but to Americans at home.
As we have repeatedly discussed in these pages, a loss of our electric power grid for an indefinite period would undoubtedly lead to the death of many millions of Americans due to starvation, disease and societal collapse. While some of the commenters on my Wall Street Journal article were seriously mistaken in thinking that the threat is overstated — a major portion of the commenters clearly perceived this most serious nature of the threat.
For example, in the 451st comment, David Eyke aptly observed:
“One of the commentators below suggested ‘If the power grid is destroyed, we are almost back to the stone age with no stone age skills.’
“’Stone Age’ might have been hyperbole, but the truth is not far from it. Food distributors can’t communicate with producers or growers without electricity. Distributions can’t talk to grocery stores. Even scarier, lenders can’t make loans: loan documents today are provided to loan officers only electronically by vendors over the web — remote fill in the blank with local printing.
“Without loans, the money supply falls by four times the size of the money supply collapse that happened during the Great Depression.
“It will be like “Walking Dead” without the zombies. The most dangerous things are the other humans.”
I heartedly agree with this sentiment, though I usually say that loss of our electric power grid for an indefinite period would return our current “just-in-time delivery of vital goods” to the 19th century conditions for our population of a tenth the size, without benefits of that agrarian society that produced its most vital life support locally.
The result would be catastrophic — leading to the death of most Americans within a year, as was concluded by EMP Commissioners almost a decade ago. Yet our current vulnerable condition remains essentially unchanged since their assessment!
This condition is precisely what Ted Koppel referenced in his excellent book, “Lights Out.” While he focused on the cyberattack possibilities, he acknowledged that both physical and EMP attack scenarios also could lead to the same result — loss of the national electric grid for an indefinite period with dire consequences. Click here for an Amazon listing of Koppel’s excellent book.
Actually, I believe that any serious EMP attack will also include precursor cyber and physical attacks on our communications, electric grid and other important infrastructure to confuse and diffuse our response, while rendering us most vulnerable to a high altitude EMP attack — a HEMP “coup de grace” for short — of the type which North Korea now could be contemplating.
Whatever the threat attack strategy, Koppel emphasized the organizational problems of responding to a major electric power grid shutdown on pages 231-2 of his excellent book. In particular, he emphasized the bureaucratic problems of assuring prompt, effective response of the National Guard to aid local communities in such an event.
Given the Federal-State-Local “chain-of-command issues” and the legacy of posse comitatus legal constraints, he emphasized that the burden for protecting the average citizen will fall on the local community and its preparedness. Specifically, he argued:
“In anticipating the event of a power grid going down . . . the process will have to be streamlined and rehearsed. During the time that it takes to alert and dispatch military personnel and to mobilize the National Guard, local and state police will need to immediately secure the stores and warehouses containing essential supplies that will otherwise be stripped bare in a matter of hours. The authority exists, but without the regular conduct of combined exercises specifically designed to respond to the aftermath of a grid going down, critical supplies will be gone before law enforcement even arrives on the scene . . .”
His well posed argument suggests that the dreaded conditions of “returning to the stone age without stone age skills,” suggested by Mr. Eyke above — or by my more accurate description, may be avoided if local, county and state authorities seek in advance to understand the threat and conduct those needed exercises to be prepared to do what it takes to avoid as an alternative to accepting such a condition as being inevitable.
Moreover, doing so would help empower the National Guard to be responsive in countering this existential threat to all Americans.
We are pursuing precisely this objective in our Lake Wylie Pilot Study—on the Catawba River between North and South Carolina. Click here for our first discussion of this important study nearly a year ago—which includes the first version of the following figure.
Finally, click here for a related June 5, 2017 EE News article that references my May 4, 2017 testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that among other things reported on this Lake Wylie Pilot Study in York County, SC — which I believe is a “bottoms up” approach to protect the electric power grid, and a pattern that local, county and state emergency managers can use with the nation’s several thousand energy companies, electric utility companies and electric Co-operative electric companies (CoOps) to begin to protect the electric grid in their local areas.
Bottom line: We need to harden the electric power grid, as many of those commenting on my Wall Street Journal observed.
But as I concluded last week, try as we may, we cannot completely protect the electric grid in time to completely counter this threat — we have for too long been doing too little, and it is now too late to completely harden the grid before these threats materialize.
Thus, we should be employing fully our current ballistic missile defenses for homeland defense, not just to defend our overseas troops and allies.
In addition to our Homeland Defense ground based interceptors, I believe we should fully employ our several Aegis BMD ships in the vicinity of North Korea to intercept earlier in their flight North Korean ballistic missiles that might be headed our way — while they are still rising before they reach their highest altitude.
We tested how to do this over a decade ago, and our Aegis crews should be fully trained to carry out such a mission today — if they are not already so trained.
Moreover, I would argue that they should demonstrate that capability by shooting down a North Korean ballistic missile to prove to Kim Jong Un that we can do it. This is not a novel idea. Click here for a Fox News article on Tax Day 2013 reporting Senator John McCain making this same proposal. If we had followed Senator McCain’s recommendation over four years ago, maybe we would not be in the current predicament.
Aegis Ashore BMD sites also could be helpful — as our Japanese friends have recently observed. Click here for a May 13, 2017 Reuters article that summarizes why the Japanese prefers the less expensive Aegis Ashore sites to the THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) system now being deployed in South Korea.
I agree with the Japanese, by the way. We should also be deploying Aegis Ashore sites on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico — beginning on Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida. This would end out total vulnerability against ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.
We have an operational Aegis Ashore site in Romania, will have one in Poland by the end of the year and a potential operational site in Hawaii where we test the Aegis Ashore system.
Why not also to protect the American homeland? More for another day.
If we wish to avoid “Lights Out” scenarios, as discussed by Ted Koppel and others, we should protect the electric power grid against all serious threats, with a special focus on the HEMP threat — while also protecting it against Cyber and Physical/Radio Frequency weapons, which no doubt will be employed to confuse and diffuse our emergency responders.
And we should build truly effective defenses against these threats as soon as possible, including the most effective ballistic missile defenses possible — and I believe that means to be based in space.
Let Freedom Ring!
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