January 6, 2013 – Why Aren’t We Countering the Existential EMP Threat?


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

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

E-Mail Message 130107

Why Aren’t We Countering the Existential EMP Threat?

January 7, 2013

 High Frontier’s two previous email reports described an existential threat to the America we know and love—it could kill 60-90 percent of all Americans. This electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat comes in two flavors: one manmade and the other a consequence of nature

  • Any number of adversaries (including Iran and/or their terrorist surrogates) may obtain a nuclear weapon, mate it to a short or medium range ballistic missile and launch that missile from a vessel near our coasts to a hundred miles or so above the U.S. and there detonate its nuclear weapon.
  • Periodically occurring solar storms (reaching a maxima approximately every 11 years—including the 2012-14 time period) create enormous clouds of electrically charged particles that travel 93-million miles in minutes to interact with the earth’s geomagnetic field and create an EMP event.

In the first case for example, North Korea, Iran or Terrorists could launch a nuclear armed ballistic missile from a vessel in the Gulf of Mexico to produce an EMP attack.  To counter that threat we recommended deploying “Aegis Ashore” ballistic missile defenses at several military bases around the Gulf. 

The second case involves a potentially catastrophic “Carrington event” expected once a century or so—such an event last occurred on September 1, 1859. (Our last email incorrectly stated 1895—sorry about that.) Even though this was long before our society became critically dependent on electronics, it caused fires in our telegraph stations and destroyed our undersea telegraph cable. More recently, smaller solar related EMP events (e.g., in 1921 and 1989) provided considerable evidence of the growing vulnerability of many electronic systems, including shutting down Quebec’s electric power grid serving 6-million subscribers.   

Of the two cases, the damage created by a nuclear EMP attack would be deeper and harder to repair than that from a Carrington-class geomagnetic super-storm. Both cases were discussed in detail by a specially chartered non-partisan Congressional Commission, which produced ample evidence to justify immediate actions to save so many Americans should the threat materialize—and recommended measures to protect the American people.

Yet, little has been done. So, what is needed to provide for the common defense of all Americans against this very real threat?

 Nature of the Problem:

As too often appears to be the case, bureaucratic and political resistance rather than technical or economic challenges are at the root of the problem the Federal Government has in dealing with the two cases above—not because many of the key powers that be are not informed. Furthermore, this resistance is amplified by a number of relatively uninformed “naysayers” who, nevertheless, provide fodder to those who seek to impede progress for whatever reasons. 

Peter Vincent Pry spells out these issues in Civil-Military Preparedness For an Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe, 2011, available for Kindle on Amazon.com and in his soon-to-be-published Apocalypse Unknown. They are described in lesser detail by Michael Maloof’s A Nation Forsaken, EMP: the Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe, WND Books, Washington, DC, 2013.

As an example to make this point, consider briefly a key common element of the above two cases.  Both nuclear weapon and solar flare EMP events involve a low frequency component—the so-called E3 component, which would couple energy into power lines that interconnect the key elements of the electric power grid. When that E3 energy is so coupled, it will focus on power plant nodes and can destroy associated transformers, leading to failure of major portions if not all of the grid. The U.S. no longer makes these rather large transformers; replacing them could take many months, if they can be replaced at all given the possible concurrent damage to our transportation systems that feed our “just-in-time” commerce. 

Loss of even a small segment of the power grid can cascade to bring down major elements. In July 1996, a tree branch fell on a power line in Idaho leading to a cascading failure of several power plants and transmission lines—blacking out 18 western U.S. states.  If key segments of the grid are lost—as would likely be the case in major EMP events, the entire grid could fail, for an extended period of time. And these losses could be essentially permanent for the current grid, for the reasons stated above.

This vulnerability has been widely understood since the EMP Commission’s 2004 report, reinforced by its 2008 report. And cost-effective countermeasures are also known.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) estimates that to rectify this vulnerability would cost about 20-cents annually per subscriber—informed subscribers surely would pay a hundred times that amount for insurance against a catastrophic EMP event. Yet multiple attempts to pass legislation requiring appropriate power industry authorities to act have failed, the most notable ones in the past two congresses were:

  • HR5026, the Grid Act of 2010, sponsored by Cong. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) which passed the House by voice vote in and died in the Senate when blocked by a single Senator.
  • HR668, the Shield Act of 2011, introduced by Cong. Trent Franks (R-AZ) which never made it out of the Energy and Commerce Committee—in spite of broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate that could have assured passage.

Hopefully, Congressman Franks will reintroduce the Shield Act in the new Congress for a third try to pass this important initiative—and this time, perhaps the powers that be can figure out how to move the Bill out of Committee and onto the floor where it should pass with ease. Without a functioning power grid, all of our “just-in-time” commerce would grind to a stop for an extended period during which millions could perish for lack of food, medicine, etc.

A high altitude nuclear explosion will in addition produce substantial energy at much higher frequencies than the E3 component—these components can cause significant damage to critical infrastructure such as communications, transportation, and key elements of banking and commerce.   As noted above, a nuclear EMP attack would be deeper and harder to repair than that from a Carrington-class geomagnetic super-storm.

These issues will be discussed further in future email reports.

So, What to Do?

Given the failure of Washington and the Federal Establishment to deal with this obviously important problem for nearly a decade, High Frontier and the IWG have concluded we should take the issue directly to the American people. Click here to read our 2010 White Paper.

The first step is to get a critical mass informed about the problem and possible solutions—a major reason High Frontier is getting involved in the social media world. Our primary focus in on the nuclear EMP threat, though we believe that addressing the solar super-storm vulnerability will deal with a major part of the problem for the nuclear threat case.  

Future email reports will deal with a number of related specifics, including the importance of hardening against both high and low frequency EMP components in providing protection in case the ballistic missile defenses should fail. And attention will be given to the need for effective defenses to avoid this possible failure.

In the near term, defense against ballistic missiles that might be launched from ships off our coasts can, as previously argued, exploit the Aegis BMD system deployed on 24 of the over 80 Aegis cruisers and destroyers at sea around the world.  In addition to ships that may be in transit near our East and West Coasts, we recommend deploying at military bases near the Gulf of Mexico coastline the same “Aegis Ashore” BMD system that the American taxpayers are building in Romania and Poland.  U.S. bases should be less expensive that those overseas. 

Where is Missle Defense Fleet

The Aegis BMD system on cruisers and destroyers is integrated with their fleet operations.  To date, operational crews have had 20 successful intercepts out of 24 attempts. 

  • If near our coasts, it can shoot down attacking missiles including those that threaten a high altitude EMP attack.
  • In principle, Aegis Ashore simply transfers the radar, launcher and command and control system to a land-based pad that can be placed on a military base near our coasts to perform the same BMD mission.

In particular, High Frontier has an active program to inform folks around the Gulf of Mexico of the threat and what can be done about it—beginning with the citizens and then moving to their local and state authorities and eventually their representatives in Washington.  We have begun our outreach effort in Mississippi, and are next headed to Florida and then to Texas.

Eventually, a layered defense in needed—preferably one that can intercept ballistic missiles while they are rising from their launch sites in their boost phase, while their rockets are still burning and long before they can release their nuclear payload to produce a high altitude EMP event. More to come in future email reports. 

If you agree with our concern and want to support our effort, please make a tax deductable gift to High Frontier and help us escape this existential threat.

Give us feedback in any case.  To contact us, please e-mail info@highfrontier.org.

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