October 22, 2013—EMP Mythology???

October 22, 2013—EMP Mythology???


Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman  . . . Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives

E-Mail Message 131022

EMP Mythology???

By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper

October 22, 2013

What will it take to get the powers that be to initiate timely and effective countermeasures to the existential threat posed by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), from either manmade or natural causes? Whether it will lead to effective actions is uncertain, but understanding a number of misconceptions about the threat is very important to those who seek to develop a strategy to counter events that could lead to the death of an overwhelming majority of all Americans.

High Frontier seeks to inform all who will listen that America’s leaders seem oblivious to an existential threat from many who wish to destroy us—namely any with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles who detonates even a single such weapon at high altitude (say a hundred miles) over the United States. 

The resulting effects from that detonation would kill no one immediately, but its electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would likely shut down for an indefinite period the electric power grid, which literally sustains our way of life. The loss of our “just in time” delivery systems for food, water, medicine, transportation, banking, communications, etc. would return us to an 18th century existence without the benefits of an agrarian society that then assured our survival.  

Our email messages since last Fall (See our webpage www.highfrontier.org to review these messages.) have emphasized that America’s life blood—electricity—flows through the electric power grid, illustrated in the title slide from a briefing by Dr. George H. Baker, an EMP expert and professional colleague. I’ll return to a discussion of this important briefing after a few more introductory comments. 

October 22, 2013

Status Quo: Protect Nukes But Leave People Vulnerable?

If we lose the electric power grid, several hundred million Americans could perish within a year . . . but the powers that be seem oblivious to this reality.

Presumably, they are uninformed. Or maybe they believe the threat is exaggerated by a bunch of conspiracy minded nuts, who also might be concerned about Orson Wells’ fictional attack by aliens from outer space.

But our Cold War experience confirms that the EMP threat is real and that we know how to protect against it. This knowledge was highly classified following our introduction to the consequences of EMP in 1962, when the Starfish Prime high altitude nuclear test damaged electrical systems in Hawaii, some 900 miles away.  Furthermore, we have long known that today’s solid state electronics are much more vulnerable than were Hawaii’s vacuum tube electronics exposed to Starfish Prime.

We also have long known how to harden out critical electrical systems to survive such effects.  We developed, deployed and maintained hardening techniques to assure our strategic systems could survive and be employed by the President to retaliate to a Soviet first strike employing EMP. That we were correct in assuming this precursor attack was a key part of their war plan was confirmed by information we obtained from Russians after the Cold War.

Furthermore, the Cold War technologies have since been markedly improved—in designing both systems to use EMP offensively and countermeasures to survive if attacked with these improved EMP weapons.     

In 2008, the congressionally charted EMP Commission successfully sought and got official approval to declassify much on these matters, and their report became public knowledge. Click here to review their 2004 and 2008 reports—as well as testimony by the commission’s chairman, Dr. William R. Graham, who in his last government post served as President Reagan’s Science Advisor.

I served with Bill at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in the 1960s when we both focused on understanding nuclear weapons effects and protecting our strategic systems against those effects. Bill participated on Starfish Prime and quickly acquired a national reputation on EMP. He served as a senior national level advisor on how to harden our strategic systems and their supporting command, control and communications systems to assure that the President could retaliate with our nuclear forces if we were attacked by the Soviet Union.  

So—during the Cold War, we hardened our nuclear capable forces. As a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, I was privileged to oversee many of these important programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s—and personally know that assuring their survivability is feasible. Hopefully, the powers that be still maintain the survivability of our strategic systems in today’s uncertain world.

But I also know from that first-hand experience that we did essentially nothing to harden our civil critical infrastructure—that in turn depends on the survival of the electric power grid. Rectifying this condition is an urgent requirement in today’s world—one which Bill and I both continue to seek to rectify.

Bill and I have have continued as professional colleagues—and, in particular, we both recently joined the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Resilient Societies. This non-profit foundation is currently focused on protecting the U.S. electric grid against the long-term loss of commercial electric power that could be caused by a manmade (nuclear attack) or natural (major solar storm) EMP event. Supporting this foundation is an important complement to High Frontier’s efforts to defend against ballistic missiles that could create devastating EMP effects.

Overcoming Persistent EMP Misconceptions.

So, we know the threat is real and we know how to deal with it—from a technical perspective; and, I might add, also from an economic perspective. To do so requires getting the powers that be to act, which implies that they should understand a number of misperceptions. 

The above title chart is from a briefing by another friend and director of the Foundation of Resilient Societies, Dr. George H. Baker. During his government career, he directed the Department of Defense EMP programs. He also served on the Principal Staff of the EMP Commission and remains actively involved in our efforts to inform all who will listen about the EMP threat, about which there are many misconceptions.  In particular, I urge you to spend 20 minutes or so by clicking here to view his lecture on this important subject. To help you see his charts, click here for better fidelity.

George discussed the following misconceptions, with enough authoritative detail to hold the attention of technologists and hopefully not to go over the head of lay persons.  He notes misconceptions that overstate and understate the intensity and extent of the EMP threat.


(From a briefing by Dr. George H. Baker)

  • EMP will burn out every exposed electronic system
  • EMP effects will be very limited and only result in “nuisance” effects in critical infrastructure systems
    • EMP will cause “upset” effects—not permanent damage
    • These upset effects are not serious with easy recovery
  • Long haul fiber optic lines are not vulnerable to EMP
  • To protect our critical national infrastructure would cost a large fraction of the GNP
  • Megaton class weapons are needed to cause any serious EMP effects—low yield “entry-level” weapons are not a concern
  • Only late-time EMP (E3), not E1 will damage electric power grid  transformers
  • Ground burst EMP effects are limited to 2-5 kms from a nuclear explosion where blast, thermal and radiation effects dominate
  • Only late-time EMP (E3), not E1 will damage electric power grid transformers.

Misconceptions that overstate the problem may discourage folks from trying to deal with the looming danger—they could lead to what some have called the “On the Beach” syndrome—a reference to the 1959 movie of that title. (If you wish to see this film, click here for the first hour and here for the second hour.) This film exaggerated radiation fallout conditions following a nuclear exchange, leading to the death everyone on earth, leading some viewers to suggest that “the living would envy the dead”—and to cancel the then existing civil defense program as America drifted into a mutual suicide pact with the Soviet Union called Mutual Assured Destruction, or appropriately MAD for short.  This policy presumed that the world would be safe if either side would destroy the other if it were first attacked.

It was this view that led to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which made it illegal to seek to defend Americans at home against ballistic missile attack. It took President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which I was privileged to lead as its third director, to challenge that view and President George W. Bush’s determination to withdraw from that treaty after 30 years under its ill-advised and restrictive terms, the legacy of which regrettably still lives.  Story for another day.

The second and third misconceptions, both of which understate the problem, are important because they lead the powers that be to do nothing, never mind the do)wnside risks if they are proven to be wrong.  Taking this risk is ludicrous in view of George’s fourth misconception, namely that rectifying the vulnerability of the electric power grid is expensive. George notes in his briefing that hardening the grid would cost electric power subscribers pennies a month. Pretty cheap insurance, it seems to me—and to those with whom I have discussed this issue.

Regarding the fifth misconception, advanced nuclear weapons designs have gone far beyond the designs employed in our atmospheric nuclear tests which ended a half century ago; and we know that very low yield nuclear weapons can produce debilitating EMP effects over large areas—essentially all territory within a line of sight from a high-altitude detonation.  Some believe that even North Korea has tested these designs, transferred to them from Russia and China.  If so, Iran is not far behind. 

Furthermore, even non-nuclear weapons have been invented that produce EMP effects over limited ranges—and could be used in a coordinated terrorist attack scenario to shut down portions of the grid. For example, click here to see a Boeing press release on their unpiloted aircraft version of such a weapon system.

As a prelude to discussing the sixth misconception, understand that E1 and E3 are, respectively, short wavelength and long wavelength components of a nuclear produced EMP. From extensive simulation testing, we know E1 causes damage to the solid state electronics that are essential to many components of our critical civil infrastructure, including the electric power grid. E3 is a primary threat to the electric power grid because the long wavelength component couples into the long lines that interconnect the power plants of the grid.  The power lines channel lethal charges to destroy the key large transformers that are no longer produced (by hand, so their construction take months) in the United States and without which the grid will collapse.  Notably, E3 would also be produced by a massive solar flare. E1 would not. (The E2 component, by the way, has a mid-range wavelength like lightning and is handled by well-known countermeasures, such as surge arrestors.)

George’s seventh misperception refers to the fact that a nuclear explosion on the surface of the earth—perhaps to attack very hard structures with blast effects— also produces an EMP that can couple to the power grid network illustrated in his title slide.

Bottom line: The above misconceptions, if understood by the American people, will help them to demand that their representatives provide for the common defense.

Implications for High Frontier Plans.

I, of course, applaud Dr. Baker’s efforts, and those of others who are pressing the powers that be to understand and counter EMP effects.  I am particularly interested in working this problem from the “bottom up” so that many local and state authorities will follow the lead of Representative Andrea Boland (D-Sanford), of the Maine House of Representatives, who successfully advocated in only a six month period a historically important landmark bit of legislation, LD 131, which passed the House unanimously and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate. 

October 28, 2013 IIIMy colleagues with the Foundation for Resilient Societies are working closely with Andrea to support her efforts in support of the people of Maine. Her successful effort will serve as an important pattern for other state legislators to follow—and they should be of great interest to those concerned at the Federal level, particularly those seeking serious consideration of the Shield Act. The Shield Act, advocated by the EMP Caucus co-chaired by Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Yvette Clark (D-NY), if enacted, will protect the grid from manmade attacks that can happen and natural EMP events that will occur, the only uncertainty is when. For a more complete summary of these issues, see our August 2nd email.

We have begun working with local and state officials in Florida to help them understand EMP issues and seek effective countermeasures. In addition to considering ways to harden their grid, we hope they will seek to build Aegis Ashore missile defense sites to defend against ballistic missiles that might be launched from vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.  We are considering specific site locations on Tyndall AFB in the Florida panhandle and on Homestead AFB near the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. In particular, we encourage exploitation of the same Aegis Ashore systems being deployed in Romania (by 2015) and Poland (by 2018). No additional research and development money is required—except perhaps to prepare specific sites

Such defenses would be critically important to protect against irreparable EMP damage to the key large transformers of the electric power grid—that under certain well known conditions could cause a complete failure of the electric power grid for an indefinite period and to the ultimate death of several hundred million Americans within the following year.

We have also joined forces with a new EMP Coalition being facilitated by Frank Gaffney, my friend, former Reaganite  and President of the Center for Security Policy.  The members of the EMP Coalition are listed below.

EMP Coalition IIThe federal government is failing its first duty “to provide for the common defense.” Providing effective missile defenses and hardening the electric power grid as quickly as possible should be a top national priority. Thus, we will continue to urge Washington powers that be to undertake the Shield Act to harden he electric power grid and to enhance our ballistic missile defenses, especially for our citizens on the East Coast and around the Gulf of Mexico, where U.S. citizens are completely vulnerable to ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf—or from Latin America, e.g., Venezuela.

Frankly, Washington seems not inclined to counter this threat anytime soon; so we consider our message to grass roots America to be urgently important.  Our local and state authorities need to understand these issues and what they might do if their federal representatives continue to fail “to provide for the common defense.”

In informing Floridians and their representatives of their vulnerability against ballistic missiles launched from the Gulf of Mexico, we will emphasize that near-term affordable solutions exist. Hopefully, their legislature will follow Maine to harden their electric power grid, while holding the Washington authorities accountable for their oath to provide for the common defense. Hopefully, in joining such an effort, other states also will be encouraged to follow.

And what can you do? 

Join us at High Frontier in seeking to alert the public and our local and state authorities to the existential threats posed by both man-made and natural EMP events—and what can be done about these threats

We need your help in spreading this information to the grass roots and to encourage all “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!

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