Those Nagging EMP Threats!


This article is not meant to, or intended to be interpreted as a political endorsement, or lack thereof, of any political candidate. Family Security Matters takes no political point of view whatsoever.

"A single nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude over this country would collapse our electrical grid and other critical infrastructure and endanger the lives of millions. With North Korea in possession of nuclear missiles and Iran close to having them, an EMP is no longer a theoretical concern - it is a real threat. Moreover, China and Russia include sabotage as part of their warfare planning. Nonetheless, hundreds of electrical utility in the U.S. have not acted to protect themselves from EMP and they cannot be expected to do so voluntarily since homeland security is a government responsibility. The President, the Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the States, the utilities and the private sector should work together on an urgent basis to enact Republican legislation, pending in both chambers, to protect the national grid and encourage states to take the initiative to protect their own grids expeditiously." ~ Republican Party Platform-July 18, 2016

These are welcome words amid the hoopla at the convention of the Grand Old Party, and hopefully they will stir some serious follow-through after the quadrennial silly season that should end on November 8, 2016, regardless of the outcome of the election.  While I applaud  this initiative, I also want to emphasize a couple of unmentioned aspects of this existential threat to all Americans that also deserve attention.

Natural EMP - Space Weather Threat.

First, an existential EMP threat is posed by manmade means, as indicated in the Platform, and also by natural means - i.e., from a major solar eruption that surely will occur, only the timing is uncertain. See the above figure illustrating the size of the Earth compared to a major Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). 

Even the Obama White House has agreed with this assessment of the "natural EMP threat" and last year issued a Presidential Directive to deal with it. Click here for the White House October 2015 "National Space Weather Action Plan," which is supposed to deliver much by this coming October. I do not have an assessment of progress toward that objective, which will be inherited by the next administration and deserves its high priority in deciding next steps.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration apparently has ignored the manmade threat. Perhaps it was too difficult to ignore the detailed analysis of the Lloyds of London assessment that repairing the damage in the United States from such a major (Carrington-level) CME could cost up to $2.6 trillion dollars. (Click here for this important report.)

Moreover, a Carrington-level CME is estimated to have a likelihood of 12-percent-per-decade, e.g., click here for a related NASA report. We had a narrow escape in July 2012, when such a Carington-level CME passed through the Earth's orbit within about a week of the Earth's passage. Click here for an extensive NASA Science News report on the importance of this near miss, largely unreported by the main-stream media.  One day, it will not miss.

The last time we had such an event was in 1859, almost 160 years ago; and it caused physical damage to our telegraph system, especially the then-recently deployed undersea cable between the United States and Europe. But it produced little economic damage to our then agrarian society where food and other critical consumables were provided locally. Today, it would do catastrophic damage to the electrical grid that provides essential power to critical infrastructure supporting the "just-in-time" arrival of life-essential goods in the world's developed nations.

Do the math - we are overdue!!! Thus, it is entirely appropriate to prepare to deal with that natural EMP threat from an anticipated CME that does not miss the Earth.

Manmade EMP Threat from the South.

The "Space Weather" threat is less severe than the "manmade EMP threat" which includes higher frequency E1 and E2 components in addition to the low frequency E3 threat that composes the Natural EMP - Solar Storm - threat. If we harden the grid only to protect against a Carrington-class CME, we will leave the American people vulnerable to the higher frequency components of the manmade EMP threat. Not smart.

Thus, the Republican Platform is very much on-target in emphasizing the existential EMP threat posed by nation states like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. If we protect against the manmade EMP threat we will automatically protect Americans against the natural EMP threat. 

My only quibble with the Platform is that this welcome statement should be expanded to include the EMP threat from terrorists. For example, ISIS jihadis could get their hands on nuclear weapons - perhaps as surrogates for the Iranian mullahs who regularly call for "Death to America."

As I joined several well informed critics of current policies to argue (click here), we should assume that Iran already has nuclear weapons. Therefore, I also argue that we should include in our list of threats the possibility that Iran could pass a nuclear weapon to ISIS for a mission to kill tens of millions of citizens of the "Great Satan."

The terrible 2015 "Deal with Iran" did nothing to counter this possibility. As Ilan Berman argues in "A Bitter Birthday For The Iran Deal" in U.S. News and World Report, the Deal is much worse than thought a decade ago for at least three reasons:

  • It does not irrevocably reduce Iran's nuclear potential, as claimed; it does the opposite; under key provisions of the accord itself.
  • It incentivizes further proliferation, contrary to President Obama's claim that it closes off all pathways for Iran to acquire nuclear capability; it focuses on indigenous development (the regime's domestic facilities, stockpiles and nuclear know-how), while not seriously addressing the clandestine procurement of components from abroad - particularly via its ally North Korea.
  • It unraveled the international sanctions regime against Iran, putting the Islamic Republic on the cusp of an economic windfall of unprecedented magnitude, including a whopping $100 billion in previously escrowed oil revenue - equivalent to one quarter of Iran's annual economy - and the reintegration of Iran into global institutions, such as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, to help stabilize Iran's economy and potentially to facilitate Iranian access to the U.S. dollar.


Click here for Ilan's full report, which includes his challenge to the next administration to deal with this rehabilitation of the Islamic Republic politically and economically and to curb its global menace. Conspicuously absent today is any serious plan on the part of the United States to contain, deter and dilute Iran's growing power.

A sound plan would also deal with the fact that even a small jihadi band - e.g., from ISIS ranks - could be chartered by Iran to pose such an existential EMP threat, in spite of President Obama's multiple assurances that ISIS does not pose such a threat. Click here for one of the times he has made this claim. I disagree with the President (and the author of that particular article).

To illustrate a way this threat could happen, note that a SCUD ballistic missile could be purchased for a few million dollars - no challenge for those who support ISIS. A nuclear weapon, from Iran or elsewhere, could be placed on top of that SCUD launched from a vessel off our coasts and detonated above the atmosphere and over the U.S.

No reentry vehicle is needed to enable this capability, as would be the case if the purpose of such an attack was to use a nuclear weapon to destroy a target on the ground. To create the EMP that could destroy much if not all of the nation's electric grid, ISIS could simply set off the nuclear weapon as it passes over the atmosphere, without reentry.

This existential threat to all Americans was identified by the EMP Commission in 2008, but little to nothing has since been done to counter it.

Our only demonstrated capability to shoot down such a missile launched from vessels near our coasts is our ballistic missile defense (BMD) system now deployed on our Aegis BMD cruisers and destroyers - but only if the crews are trained and prepared to accomplish this mission. 

Are they?  The last time I checked, they were not - even though there are usually several such ships off the east coast or in east coast ports.

More to the point, our Aegis BMD ships are seldom if ever in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the United States completely vulnerable to such an attack from there - say, from a container ship that might be headed to port in New Orleans.  

So, we are completely vulnerable to such threats from the south, not to mention from South America, e.g., where Iran is known to have had cooperative arrangements, especially with Venezuela. Like a new "Cuban Missile Crisis???"

As illustrated above, we have actually seen a North Korean vessel passing from Cuba and stopped by Panamanian authorities on its way from Cuba to the Panama Canal, carrying nuclear capable SA-2 missiles hidden under tons of sugar...such Cold War nuclear capable missiles could be erected and launched to pose the EMP threat of concern.

So, we are vulnerable to this threat and to my knowledge are doing nothing about it. Worthy of notice in Party Platforms.

This vulnerability need not be.  As we have repeatedly pointed out, we could deploy Aegis Ashore BMD sites on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico. We have such an operational site in Romania to protect our European allies from Iranian missiles-and are planning to have an operational site in Poland in 2018.  No additional R&D is need to deploy the same capability on our military bases around the Gulf - just the cost of deployment.

I argue we should begin with an Aegis Ashore site on Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida - home of First Air Force, which already has the mission to help defend the continental U.S. (and Porta Rico and the Dominican Republic) against air and missile attack, as a direct report to the Commander of Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the commander of our homeland defense BMD systems.

Such a site could also help defend against satellite delivered nuclear weapons launched by North Korea or Iran and approaching the U.S. from the south.  Both nations have launched satellites into such orbits that present the U.S. with this threat-and today we are defenseless against it.

Fix This Problem!!!

Perhaps, if Lloyds of London insured against acts of war, the Obama administration would have taken steps to defend against the manmade EMP threat as well as the natural EMP threat. 

Hopefully the next administration will correct this oversight, especially if the Congress continues to fail to deal effectively with it.  As stated in the Republican Party Platform:

"The President, the Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the States, the utilities and the private sector should work together on an urgent basis to enact Republican legislation, pending in both chambers, to protect the national grid and encourage states to take the initiative to protect their own grids expeditiously."

Stay tuned.

Ambassador Henry F. Cooper is Chairman of High Frontier and a former Acquisition Executive for all U.S. ballistic missile defenses.  He also served in several other senior USG acquisition and policy positions, including as President Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union. He is currently focused on helping local, state and federal authorities protect against the natural and manmade EMP threat by building effective ballistic missile defenses and hardening the electric grid. Otherwise, loss of the electric grid would freeze America's "just in time" economy, leaving most Americans without means for survival.


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