Electromagnetic Pulse

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Interest ofJames Woolsey

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse's origin may vary in size from small ones with limited effect to devastating global events destroying the entire electronic infrastructure. EMPS can be a natural occurrence, from a lightning strike, to a devastating pulse from a solar storm; or man-made, from small suitcase devices to nuclear weapons taking out the infrastructure on whole continents. It can occur as a radiated, electric, or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source.

During 2020, deep state actors have been talking darkly of an EMP incident (or cyber attack with much the same effect) much more devastating than Covid-19, including the destruction of power grids, blackouts, and the closing of transport and health systems.[citation needed] Like pandemics and terrorist attacks, EMPs have long been a topic in military exercises, often leading to a Catastrophic Power Outage scenario.

Nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP)

A nuclear electromagnetic pulse is the abrupt pulse of electromagnetic radiation resulting from a nuclear explosion. The resulting rapidly changing electric fields and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges.

The intense gamma radiation emitted can also ionize the surrounding air, creating a secondary EMP as the atoms of air first lose their electrons and then regain them.

NEMP weapons are designed to maximize such EMP effects as the primary damage mechanism, and some are capable of destroying susceptible electronic equipment over a wide area.

A high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) weapon is a NEMP warhead designed to be detonated far above the Earth's surface. The explosion releases a blast of gamma rays into the mid-stratosphere, which ionizes as a secondary effect and the resultant energetic free electrons interact with the Earth's magnetic field to produce a much stronger EMP than is normally produced in the denser air at lower altitudes.

Non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NNEMP)

Non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NNEMP) is a weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse without use of nuclear technology. Devices that can achieve this objective include a large low-inductance capacitor bank discharged into a single-loop antenna, a microwave generator, and an explosively pumped flux compression generator. To achieve the frequency characteristics of the pulse needed for optimal coupling into the target, wave-shaping circuits or microwave generators are added between the pulse source and the antenna. Vircators are vacuum tubes that are particularly suitable for microwave conversion of high-energy pulses.[1]

The range of NNEMP weapons is much less than nuclear EMP. Nearly all NNEMP devices used as weapons require chemical explosives as their initial energy source, producing only one millionth the energy of nuclear explosives of similar weight.

Especially Russia has developed advanced battlefield NNEMPs[citation needed]

NNEMP generators can be carried as a payload of bombs, cruise missiles (such as the CHAMP missile) and drones, with diminished mechanical, thermal and ionizing radiation effects, but without the consequences of deploying nuclear weapons.


Minor EMP events, and especially pulse trains, cause low levels of electrical noise or interference which can affect the operation of susceptible devices.

At a high voltage level an EMP can induce a spark, for example from an electrostatic discharge when fuelling a gasoline-engined vehicle. Such sparks have been known to cause fuel-air explosions and precautions must be taken to prevent them. A large and energetic EMP can induce high currents and voltages in the victim unit, temporarily disrupting its function or even permanently damaging it.

A powerful EMP can also directly affect magnetic materials and corrupt the data stored on media such as magnetic tape and computer hard drives. Hard drives are usually shielded by heavy metal casings.

A very large EMP event such as a lightning strike is also capable of damaging objects such as trees, buildings and aircraft directly, either through heating effects or the disruptive effects of the very large magnetic field generated by the current. An indirect effect can be electrical fires caused by heating. Most engineered structures and systems require some form of protection against lightning to be designed in.

The damaging effects of high-energy EMP have led to the introduction of EMP weapons, from tactical missiles with a small radius of effect to nuclear bombs designed for maximum EMP effect over a wide area.

The US EMP commission that was closed in summer 2017,[2] found that earlier reports had underestimated the effects of an EMP attack on the national infrastructure and highlighted issues with communications from the DoD due to the classified nature of the material and recommended that the DHS instead of going to the DOE for guidance and direction should directly cooperate with the more knowledgeable parts of the DOE. Several reports are in process of being released to the general public.[3].

Post-Cold War US scenarios

The United States EMP Commission was created by the United States Congress in 2001. The commission is formally known as the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.[4]

The Commission brought together notable scientists and technologists to compile several reports. In 2008, the Commission released the "Critical National Infrastructures Report".[5] This report describes the likely consequences of a nuclear EMP on civilian infrastructure. Although this report covered the United States, most of the information is applicable to other industrialized countries. The 2008 report was a followup to a more generalized report issued by the commission in 2004.[6][7]

In written testimony delivered to the United States Senate in 2005, an EMP Commission staff member reported:

   The EMP Commission sponsored a worldwide survey of foreign scientific and military literature to evaluate the knowledge, and possibly the intentions, of foreign states with respect to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. The survey found that the physics of EMP phenomenon and the military potential of EMP attack are widely understood in the international community, as reflected in official and unofficial writings and statements. The survey of open sources over the past decade finds that knowledge about EMP and EMP attack is evidenced in at least Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Egypt, Taiwan, Sweden, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia.
   Many foreign analysts – particularly in Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia – view the United States as a potential aggressor that would be willing to use its entire panoply of weapons, including nuclear weapons, in a first strike. They perceive the United States as having contingency plans to make a nuclear EMP attack, and as being willing to execute those plans under a broad range of circumstances.
   Russian and Chinese military scientists in open source writings describe the basic principles of nuclear weapons designed specifically to generate an enhanced-EMP effect, that they term "Super-EMP" weapons. "Super-EMP" weapons, according to these foreign open source writings, can destroy even the best protected U.S. military and civilian electronic systems.[8]

The United States EMP Commission determined that long-known protections are almost completely absent in the civilian infrastructure of the United States and that large parts of US military services were less-protected against EMP than during the Cold War. In public statements, the Commission recommended making electronic equipment and electrical components resistant to EMP – and maintaining spare parts inventories that would enable prompt repairs.[9] The United States EMP Commission did not look at other nations.

In 2011 the Defense Science Board published a report about the ongoing efforts to defend critical military and civilian systems against EMP and other nuclear weapons effects.[10]

The United States military services developed, and in some cases published, hypothetical EMP attack scenarios.[11]

In 2016 the Los Alamos Laboratory started phase 0 of a multi-year study (through to phase 3) to investigate EMP's which prepared the strategy to be followed for the rest of the study.[12]

In 2017 the US department of energy published the "DOE Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience Action Plan"[13], Edwin Boston published a dissertation on the topic[14] and the EMP Commission, closed in 2017, published "Assessing the threat from electromagnetic pulse (EMP)".[15].

EMP in Fiction

EMP has been extensively mentioned in movies and TV-series.[16]

  • In the 1983 made-for-television motion picture, The Day After, the fictional Soviet nuclear attack on civilian targets begins with a nuclear EMP attack in order to disable as much of the United States' retaliatory capability as possible. This scenario accurately conforms to the Cold War nuclear attack scenarios as understood by military officials and nuclear weapons designers (although post-Cold War scenarios are generally much different, since the world is much more dependent on electronic systems). Such a scenario is also presented in the programme Threads, again dealing with a fictional Soviet nuclear attack on Britain.[17]