High altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack scenario against the USA

Jean M. Bele

Physics Dept., Laboratory for Nuclear Science, MIT

The electromagnetic fields produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which the U.S. military and American society depends. Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the Nation.

China and Russia have also considered limited nuclear attack options that, unlike their Cold War plan, employ EMP as the primary or sole means of attack. Indeed, as recently as May 1999, during the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking members of the Russian Duma, meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation to discuss the Balkans conflict, raised the specter of a Russian EMP attack that would paralyze the United States.

This emphasis on non-strategic use of nuclear weapons is in addition to the more traditional strategic employments, which, although reduced in priority, have certainly not been eradicated.

This type of detonation is likely to damage key weapon systems and support capabilities, including satellite navigation systems, intelligence and targeting systems, and many other militarily significant platforms. Battlefield impacts will be significant, particularly if our small, technically superior but electronically dependent force is transformed into a small, impaired and vulnerable force.”


*Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, Volume 1: Executive Summary, July 22, 2004