Many Americans have never heard about EMP; even fewer understand that it is a bigger existential threat to our way of life than a North Korean missile hitting CONUS. The letters stand for Electromagnetic Pulse, and the technology is routinely the grist of doomsday novels like One Second After, Patriot Dawn, and The Beginning of the End. Hence, it is perceived by many as just another sci-fi scare tactic to sell movies and books. Let me briefly try to disabuse you of that notion and explain what it is, what it is not, and why shielding our national power grid from an EMP attack will be one of my priorities when I am your US Senator.
You have already personally experienced EMP. Every lightning strike is an example of the ferocity of focused EMP. Now consider that strike occurring without the associated flash of light or sound, so you would not even know that it has occurred, coming silently from a height miles above our atmosphere and impacting an area of over 400 square miles, say, for example, the triangulation from NYC to Boston to Philadelphia or Indianapolis to Chicago to St. Louis. There would be no physical damage to suggest that such a strike had even occurred. What would be affected in just a few seconds, however, is every electric gadget or appliance you currently use, every tractor, car, truck, and plane—they would simply fall out of the sky—every water processing plant, every sewage processing facility, every telephone, every traffic light, all Internet service, your electricity, your refrigeration, your well, your…you can begin to visualize the widespread devastating consequences. You can flick any switch or off/on button as much as you like and nothing will happen. How do you even get to the supermarket, if one is still open and not yet ravaged by marauding gangs in search of food? You wouldn’t even have Facebook to complain about the Colts’ losing season record, you couldn’t call 911, and the POTUS would even lose his Twitter account. When your Bluetooth or telephone’s Wi-Fi briefly cuts in and out when you flick on your microwave oven, that temporary power flicker is also the result of an EMP burst. So…this effect is nothing new.
What is new is its capability of destroying a country’s entire power grid. We usually hear about EMP being related to a nuclear weapon’s being exploded in the high atmosphere over the USA. Contrary to popular myth, however, just popping a nuke does not automatically generate an EMP pulse. Anytime, however, that a nuclear detonation occurs, a small amount of the explosion results in a release of gamma rays. When these rays are focused at a high atmosphere, they can be directed toward earth in an invisible corkscrew-like pattern, rapidly spreading out conically and stealthily crippling every electronic device within range. The higher the blast occurs, the wider the devastated area. The more technologically advanced a nation is, the more crippling the effects would be. In a matter of hours or days at best, the US lifestyle and much of the US military capability would be thrust back in time at least a couple centuries.
At this writing there are over 4,200 satellites orbiting the earth. Of those, at least 1419 are still operational. Hundreds of these satellites crisscross the USA every day at 200 to 450 KM above the atmosphere. The number of these satellites that have been weaponized is unknown. Should one of those satellites contain just a few pounds of weaponized plutonium and a detonation resulting in an EMP burst occur over North America, the USA could go dark and stay that way for months. Think of how your family reacts when your electrical power goes off for just an hour or two during a bad electrical storm in Marion County or the traffic lights at a busy intersection in Kokomo all go dark. All life support equipment in hospitals would cease to operate in seconds. Some estimates suggest that such a burst over the USA could result in a loss of our entire energy grid for months if not longer and the result of the loss of power, the technological devastation, social unrest, and resulting starvation caused by the invisible pulse could result in the deaths of upwards to 90% of our population. I am a very optimistic person and certainly not a fear mongerer, but I am a realist. Should such an event occur, the cost to repair the grid has been estimated to be between one and two trillion dollars, and such repairs could take as long as 10 years.
Decades ago the Soviets developed a FOBS, a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, capable of generating such a pulse and China and Russia have continued to refine such advanced EMP weapons over the years. Iran also has participated in this research recently, no doubt having been assisted greatly by the millions in unaccountable cash transferred to them by the Obama administration as part of the nuclear deal that Senator Donnelly voted for. Most concerning is that as early as in 2004, two Russian generals warned our EMP Commission that Russia’s EMP warhead design was “inadvertently” transferred to North Korea.
Every day two North Korean satellites cross over the continental United States. These KMS-3 (Kwangmyongsong-3) and KMS-4 (Kwangmyongsong-4) satellites use a south polar trajectory much like that designed to be employed by the previous Soviet FOBS during the Cold War to evade any US radars and missile defenses. One of these could, I stress could have been weaponized, and we have no way to know if they contain plutonium or not. In the days of the Space Shuttle program, we could have flown close enough to these satellites to monitor their emissions and know for sure if they contained such nuclear material. Since the cancellation of that program, we have no way to check. Even if every current potential enemy became a friend overnight and the threat of an EMP attack vanished in our lifetime, the capability of a severe solar storm striking earth from space is estimated by NASA to be over 10% per year. The EMP effect of such a massive solar storm would be equal to or greater than an enemy EMP attack.
Our electric grid needs to be protected, and the technology to shield our power grid is available; it just costs money and takes leadership. Nine years ago, the Congressional EMP Commission urged the White House to direct DHS to develop plans to protect the electric grid from such an assault. Nothing was done by the Obama administration. Indeed to the contrary, under the Obama administration, the DOE generated two reports, using what U.S. military and intelligence services call “junk science,” that alleged that the EMP threat is over-hyped and not really a concern; hence, money ought not to be spent to prevent it. Despite that progressive stonewalling, in 2016, The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) was quietly passed by Congress by including it in the National Defense Authorization Act. The act is there directing DHS to develop beta programs to find ways to protect the power grid from such attacks in a cost efficient way. Sadly that is where it remains: a plan.
When I am your Senator part of my pledge will be to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I will immediately join my voice with Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin who chairs the Commission, to revitalize this Congressional Act and ensure that we begin responsibly to protect our national power grid.