The USA Today has a much needed article out today on the vulnerability of our nation to Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). Unfortunately the author doesn’t seem to understand the limitations of deterrence against a terrorist EMP attack. The USA Today reports:
In the nuclear scenario, the detonation of an atomic bomb anywhere from 25 to 500 miles high electrifies, or ionizes, the atmosphere about 25 miles up, triggering a series of electromagnetic pulses. The pulse’s reach varies with the size of the bomb, the height of its blast and design.
One complication for rogue nations or terrorists contemplating a high-altitude nuclear blast is that such an attack requires a missile to take the weapon at least 25 miles high to trigger the electromagnetic pulse. For nations, such a launch would invite massive nuclear retaliation from the USA’s current stockpile of 5,000 warheads, many of them riding in submarines far from any pulse effects.
But who would the U.S. retaliate against? And the technological barriers to producing an effective EMP attack are shrinking everyday. The Heritage Foundation’s Jena Baker McNeil explains:
For countries less dependent on modern technologies and electronics, including both rogue states like Iran and North Korea as well as stateless terrorist groups, EMP provides a potential way to attack the United States through asymmetric means. EMPs could be used to circumvent America’s superior conventional military power while reducing vulnerability to retaliation in kind. It would certainly not be impossible for a terrorist organization, especially if state-sponsored, to acquire or construct an unsophisticated ballistic missile (non-working Scuds are reportedly available on the open market for $100,000) and use it in an EMP attack against America. Such a missile could be launched from a freighter in international waters and detonated in the atmosphere over the United States without warning.
Heritage’s James Carafano sketches out how a coordinated “Scud in a bucket” attack might unfold:
Iran’s Shahab-3, an advanced Scud variant, seems capable of traveling 1,000 kilometers and carrying as much as a 10-kiloton warhead. It couldn’t reach Washington from Tehran, but then, it wouldn’t have to. Iran could easily extend the missile’s reach simply by moving it to a commercial freighter and firing it from nearby using an improvised vertical launch tube disguised as cargo.
In many ways, Scud in a bucket is the ultimate weapon. It could sail close to U.S. waters without being subject to inspection by the Coast Guard or Customs. The enemy could fire the missile and scuttle the ship, leaving no record of who launched the attack.
If Iran has one missile and nuclear weapon, it might have two. It could detonate one over New York in a low-altitude air burst that would kill up to a half-million and cripple Manhattan forever.
Iran could fire a second at high altitude over the mid-Atlantic states, creating an electro-magnetic pulse that would take down a large portion of the national grid and plunge Washington, D.C., into permanent darkness.
Why on earth should America’s leaders leave our country open to this kind of threat? A better solution would be to require the Navy to develop a test program for sea-based interceptors with the capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles carrying EMP weapons prior to detonation.
Our nation’s infrastructure is also in need of hardening to minimize the damage from natural EMPs from the sun, but there is no reason we should leave ourselves vulnerable to man made disaster’s as well. Watch 33 Minutes to learn how we can better protect American in the missile age.