Electronic Weapons: The Doomsday Device Is Ignored


July 14, 2008: The U.S. government is having a hard time getting $5 billion out of Congress to protect major utility (electrical power) and industrial facilities from an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse), which could destroy most of the military and civilian electronics. The danger is this. Any nation with a satellite launch capability, could put a nuclear weapon in low orbit (about 200-300 kilometers up). Once the nuclear bomb is detonated, it creates an EMP which would destroy most of the unshielded military and civilian electronics within one or two thousand kilometers. For the U.S., that would mean most electronics would be damaged, many to the point where they no longer worked. The economy would stagger to a halt, and it would take months to get back to something resembling normal. In the meantime there would be widespread starvation, less medical care and a lot of general unpleasantness.

There would be nasty side effects to such a high altitude nuclear blast. It would  create a temporary belt of intense radiation, which would destroy or damage many of the low earth orbit satellites up there. There would be $100 billion, or more, in damage to these satellites, and several years of disrupted communications, GPS and weather prediction service until all the damaged satellites could be replaced.

That kind of collateral damage leads many military and political leaders to believe that no one would use an EMP attack. Then again, what's to prevent Iran or North Korea from setting off a nuke in low orbit, just to mess up everyone's satellites? Sounds like a great extortion opportunity. This is one reason more and more satellites are being hardened to resist the kind of radiation surge high altitude EMP would produce. But most of the stuff in low orbit is not hardened, and even the birds that are so protected, are not invulnerable to EMP, just less vulnerable.

Many military electronics systems are being hardened (adding shielding against the EMP), that increases the cost of the electronics 10-20 percent. This has been going on for decades, as during the Cold War troops were trained to keep going after the nukes began falling. But there is no incentive to harden consumer or industrial electronics. That's where the $5 billion comes in. It's to pay for hardening key items that would make recovery from an EMP attack much quicker (and less devastating in the first place.)

Since most military electronic would survive an EMP attack, retaliation (with an EMP attack, or just nukes for the sake of pure destruction) would take place. Another disincentive for anyone thinking of using the strategic EMP weapon.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close