This paraphrase of quotes attributed to Samuel Johnson should capture our attention as we think about two existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats—one that may be avoided if we are prepared and one that definitely will happen; both of which could lead to the death of several hundred million Americans. How long will the “powers that be” think before acting?
Consider again the two existential threats
- Ballistic missile attack, illustrated by three scenarios that detonate a nuclear weapon 100-300 miles above the central United States: 1) Launch of a short or medium range missile from a vessel off our coasts, 2) Launch of a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over the North Pole; and 3) Launch of a nuclear-armed satellite over the South Pole.
- A massive geomagnetic disturbance (MGD) caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with solar storms that eject vast clouds of highly charged particles into space and peak every eleven or so years and—every so often these clouds reach our planet Earth, and depending on how “the world turns,” the U.S. We’re due a Carrington event that could bring down the electric power grid, thought to occur every 100-200 years—the last one was in 1859.
Any of the above events could shut down the entire U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period—and that would have disastrous consequences as we have discussed.
A high-altitude nuclear explosion would create substantial additional damage because its high frequency EMP components could destroy critical electronics that might survive an arriving CME/GMD, which is dominated by a low frequency EMP component that couples massive energy into the network of long lines interconnecting the power plants and the rest of the electric power grid.
These observations lead to a strong conviction that we should 1) Assure that our ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems can deal with that all too real threat and 2) Protect electric power grid against CME/GMD that will happen, the only question is when. A byproduct of the latter action, if carried out by knowledgeable technologists and engineers, should be protection of key elements of the electric power grid from a nuclear EMP attack. Most important would be to harden the power transformers that are produced only in Germany and South Korea.
Currently we are postured to deal only with one of the above scenarios—attacking ICBMs that arrive from over the North Pole. Our Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) in Alaska and California should handle a limited attack from North Korea or Iran—though they need improvements against Iranian launches toward the Eastern, especially the Southeastern, USA.
Congress has directed the Pentagon report this year on how to address this weakness, including deploying an East Coast GBI site. Hopefully, the Pentagon’s report will also consider how to protect the U.S. against nuclear-armed ballistic missiles launched from vessels off our coasts—especially from the Gulf of Mexico.
Finally, I am unaware of efforts to counter the launch of a nuclear-armed satellite southward from either North Korea or Iran to be detonated over the U.S.—including on its maiden orbit. They both have launched satellites in near polar orbits that overflew the U.S. from the south-to-north, including on their initial orbits. We need to rethink our current defenses, which focused on defending against ICBMs that approach the U.S. from the north.
There should be a sense of urgency in addressing these concerns—yet the pace of the “powers that be” in doing so seem dreadfully slow. While countermeasures are available, little seems to be happening. Clearly, there needs to be a collective sense of “facing the hangman in the morning.”
We know this sense of urgency can produce astounding results—e.g., Israel’s rapid development, deployment and employment of its Iron Dome system. During the 2006 Lebanon war, Hezbollah launched thousands of short-range rockets that landed in northern Israel. In February 2007, engineers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems began working with the Israeli Defense Force to produce in
record time Israel’s Iron Dome defense—and in late 2012 shot down 84-percent of several hundred Iranian-supplied rockets that Hamas launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.
The challenge the Israelis overcame was not simply knocking rockets out of the air—actually that was the easy part. The essential development was to provide early tracking and attack assessment so that Iron Dome’s fire control system can determine whether to invest an interceptor in shooting at a given inbound missile: Those headed toward critical areas are targeted; those bound for less important destinations are granted a pass in order to concentrate fire on attacking rockets likely to do the most damage.
And now—in spite of the usual naysayers, Iron Dome is on the job, helping Israel deal with Syria.
We Need the Same Urgency to Deal With EMP.
This same kind of time urgency is a critical component of the challenge, for example, in enabling the Aegis BMD system to shoot down North Korean or Iranian ballistic missiles during their ascent phase, before the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor finds itself in a tail chase with a much faster ICBM. That Iron Dome engineers met such a challenging timeline should encourage Aegis BMD engineers in designing to deal with the threat of satellites that carry nuclear weapons over the South Pole to attack the U.S. from the south.
The Israelis demonstrated with Iron Dome that with great motivation, effective management, and sound technology, rapid development of an effective missile-defense system is feasible.
“Contemplating the hangman in the morning” no doubt was a factor in their achievement. So it should be in addressing the EMP threat to all we hold dear that could be produced by missile attack.
And we need the same sense of urgency in protecting the electric power grid from the threat from Mother Nature—the solar CME/DMD.
And what can you do?
We can use your help in spreading the word to grass roots and local authorities to press the powers that be to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do. Will you do your part?
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, www.highfrontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!
Flash Message 130508