“A single nuclear weapon exploded a hundred miles above the United States could create electromagnetic pulse effects, thereby bringing our entire economy to a standstill,” writes Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer and conservative political analyst, in her most recent op-ed.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles, would destroy most electronic devices within its line of sight.
This month, North Korea demonstrated that it is a step closer to being capable of delivering this potentially devastating blow to the United States. While Pyongyang attempted to disguise the launch as a civilian exercise, the long-range rocket uses the same long-range ballistic missile technology that, when further improved, will allow North Korea to reach the U.S. homeland.
The U.S. remains unprepared for an EMP attack despite the fact that other nations, such as Russia, continue to develop EMP weapons and have delivery systems that can reach the U.S. A ballistic missile remains the most effective means of delivery of a devastating surprise attack. An intercontinental-range ballistic missile can reach the U.S. homeland in about 33 minutes from anywhere in the world. Enemies could deliver an EMP attack with short-range ballistic missiles launched off the U.S. coasts from either surface ships or submarines. The U.S. remains largely unprotected from these threats.
A proper response to this threat, as Schlafly notes, is to develop and deploy a comprehensive layered ballistic missile defense system, including space-based interceptors. Sadly, the Obama Administration cut funding for U.S. missile defenses by $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2010 (compared to the prior year’s budget estimate) and cancelled some of the most promising programs, such as the Airborne Laser, the Multiple Kill Vehicle, and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor. It is essential to get the missile defense program back on track, as it lags behind the threat.
An EMP effect can also occur naturally during a period of high solar activity. During such periods, the sun propels electromagnetic fluctuations that can interact with electrical systems into the earth’s atmosphere. Solar storms have the potential to damage the electrical grid. Such damage would be difficult to repair. The U.S. should take steps to prepare and plan for the threat.