EMP Attack From China, Russia: Are We Ready?

If an EMP attack would be launched from either China or Russia, then what the world be like remains a critical, global threat and concern.

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon produces electromagnetic waves that immobilize power and communications infrastructure. It is most destructive when detonated at a high altitude above the target. But there has been no evidence EMP could pose a physical threat to humans, except for those people who stay alive with the help of advanced equipment such as respirators, peacemakers, and other life-support systems.

The United States House hearing report of the Committee on Homeland Security in 2014 admitted that Russia and China have the capability for an EMP attack (Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): Threat to Critical Infrastructure, 2014). [1]

“Currently, the nations of Russia and China have the technology to launch an EMP attack, and we have speculated that Iran and North Korea may be developing EMP weapon technology,” the report said. The House hearing report also advised that the US must stay proactive to “mitigate the effects of an EMP attack.”

An assessment from Chinese researchers reveals that the US is still vulnerable until 2032 as expected to have developed its know-how to protect its vital infrastructure against an EMP attack (Chen, 2021). [2]

The assessment furthers that this could “tip the strategic balance among world powers,” and that it is necessary for China and Russia to scale up their security against a probable US attack.

As the US remains all-time defensive against any impending attacks by potent electromagnetic pulses, how about us? Hence, the Philippines needs strategic allies between superpower nations to leverage security and defense. Yet, it has to have costs that can be detrimental to the country and beneficial to the superpowers.

US Under Threat of EMP Attack

Experts at a virtual forum hosted by the Universal Peace Federation, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, expressed a warning of the “growing threat of an EMP attack” on the US that could bring utter destruction (Wolfgang, 2021). [3] China has been possessing stronger “super EMPs” than the previous version, an analysis from the US congressional advisory board reveals. And should China use it to attack its target, Michael Lee of Fox News describes it to cause a “marathon of blackout resulting in mass death.” And China has the capability to protect itself from an EMP attack, which the US does not have for now.

James Conca, in his article published on forbes.com, said China, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies, has “the most active ballistic missile development program in the world,” and this is according to him is extremely bothersome.

An EMP attack from China, Russia: China has the most active ballistic missiles
China’s ballistic and cruise missiles as of June 2020

A Brief Look at EMP History

While EMPs can be natural, such as from solar flare, they can also be human-induced such as a thermonuclear detonation or a cyberattack (Conca, 2020). [4] It was in 1950 that EMP was first discovered in the US when a failure of electronic equipment occurred during nuclear tests as they induced currents and voltages (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). [5]

An EMP attack from China, Russia
FILE: The aurora of an explosion of Starfish Prime seen through the layers of clouds from Honolulu, Hawaii.

It was in the 1960s that the potential of EMP to cause damage in the US military weaponry, including civilian electrical systems, was “officially recognized” when Physicist Lowell Wood declared it so. The declaration of the potentially destructive impact of EMP was made after, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, what happened in 1962 electronic equipment failure in street lights in Hawaii and a great many burglar alarms activation in Honolulu.

On July 9, 1962, Starfish Prime—a high-altitude nuclear test—was launched by the US at Johnston Atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean. According to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, the Starfish Prime’s explosion occurred 400 kilometers (km) over the Atoll that yielded 1.45 megatons of explosives. It is nearly 100 times that of the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

An EMP attack from China, Russia; are we ready?
The mechanism for a 400-kilometer-high (250 mi) burst EMP: gamma rays hit the atmosphere, ejecting electrons which are deflected sideways and southward by the Earth’s magnetic field, maximally impacting a large area south of the detonation. –US ARMY

The Starfish Prime revealed the potent, destructive impact of EMP that caused a power surge resulting in a massive knock out of electronic devices in Oahu, over 1,000 km from the test site where Starfish Prime was launched. It was the first human-induced EMP fallout.

US Not Yet Prepared

James Conca said that according to Dr. Pry, an expert on EMP warfare, China developed weapons that include hacking as part of its “total information warfare,” and what is even more bothersome, Conca said, “Dr. Pry found that China is eager to shoot first with ‘high-altitude electromagnetic pulse’ (HEMP), weapons launched from satellites, ships, and land.“

Conca also said the US is not prepared for an EMP attack.

A press release from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Sept. 3, 2020, said it keeps up its preparation against “ever-evolving threats” emphasizing its efforts to guard against an EMP attack (DHS, 2020). [6]

The press release also said the DHS has disclosed its Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Program Status Report supporting Executive Order 13865 on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses that institutionalized “resilience and security standards for U.S. critical infrastructure as a national priority.” ▲

[1] Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): Threat to Critical Infrastructure. House Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies of the Committee on Homeland Security, 113th Cong. (2014) (Statement of Vice Chairman Scott Perry). https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg89763/html/CHRG-113hhrg89763.htm

[2] Chen, Stephen. “Chinese nuclear scientists urge readiness for electromagnetic pulse attack” scmp.com, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3140835/chinese-nuclear-scientists-urge-readiness-electromagnetic-pulse. 12 July 2021.

[3] Wolfgang, Ben. “‘Clock is ticking’ as U.S. vulnerable to Chinese electromagnetic attack, experts warn” washingtontimes.com, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/nov/23/clock-ticking-us-vulnerable-chinese-electromagneti/. 23 Nov. 2021.

[4] Conca, James. “China has ‘first-strike’ capability to melt U.S. power grid with electromagnetic pulse weapon” forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2020/06/25/china-develops-first-strike-capability-with-electromagnetic-pulse/?sh=27159e63e190. 25 June 2020.

[5] Cochran, T. B. and Norris, Robert S. “Nuclear electromagnetic pulse” britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/science/nuclear-electromagnetic-pulse. 22 November 2017.

[6] US Department of Homeland Security. “DHS combats potential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack” dhs.gov, press release. https://www.dhs.gov/news/2020/09/03/dhs-combats-potential-electromagnetic-pulse-emp-attack. 3 September 2020.

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