Experts in the United States are concerned about the vulnerability of the country’s grid infrastructure to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, apparently due to the lack of sufficient attention from the Biden administration.
As EurAsian Times reported recently, Japan, one of the major US allies in the Indo-Pacific, has plans to acquire countermeasures against EMP attacks at five bases of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force by the end of the fiscal year 2029.
However, according to Christian D. Orr, a former US Air Force (USAF) Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor, the Biden administration seems to neglect this threat.
“A successful EMP strike against the US would be a catastrophe beyond measure or comprehension, essentially ushering in “The End of the World as We Know It” (TEOTWAWKI). Yet, the Biden Administration is failing to do anything about it,” wrote Orr in a recent article for 19FortyFive.
An EMP attack involves detonating a thermonuclear weapon at an altitude of around 40 kilometers or more above the Earth’s atmosphere, unleashing a strong electromagnetic wave that can wipe out a country’s electrical grid for weeks and maybe even months.
According to US military experts, a successful EMP attack over the East Coast could kill 90 percent of the population on the East Coast within a year of an attack, and it could take 18 months to restore the electricity grid and social order.
Around 99 nuclear reactors would likely melt down without electricity to cool them, and about 4.1 million people would have to displace from areas around the nuclear plants.
The devasting impact of the EMP on electronic equipment was witnessed in the aftermath of the US nuclear test in July 1962, which entailed a high-altitude atomic explosion in the Pacific Ocean that unexpectedly overloaded the Honolulu power grid in Hawaii, 1,400 kilometers away, even overheating lightning protection devices on powerlines.
China’s EMP Strike Capabilities
An American expert on EMP warfare, the late Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, published a report in July 2020, during his tenure as the Executive Director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, in which he stated that China has long known about nuclear high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP).
It has defensive and offensive programs that are almost certainly more robust than any in the United States.
According to Dr. Pry, references to potential HEMP attacks against the US figure prominently in Chinese military writings as a means of prevailing in war. He explained that China’s military doctrine closely associates cyber-attacks with HEMP attacks as part of what it refers to as ‘Total Information Warfare.’
In this concept of Total Information Warfare, China regards cyber bugs and hacking as functional equivalents of scouts who conduct surveillance and make secret preparations for large-scale military offensives.
Therefore, China’s cyber-attacks, such as the one in June 2015 on computers in virtually every federal agency, stealing sensitive information on millions of federal employees, should be considered a possible practice for Total Information Warfare, including HEMP attacks, according to Dr. Pry.
In August 2021, a Chinese defense contractor conducted an experiment in which a powerful electromagnetic pulse brought down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flying 1,500 meters above sea level. This was possibly China’s first openly reported field test of an EMP weapon, according to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Besides that, scientists at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) have been working on a hypersonic missile with a non-nuclear EMP warhead capable of disrupting the adversary’s electrical grids and power supply.
This missile could reportedly cruise at six times the speed of sound and cover around 3,000 kilometers in 25 minutes.
Chinese military experts have repeatedly made references to potential EMP attacks on American aircraft carriers, in which a missile armed with an EMP warhead could be detonated within dozens of kilometers around the aircraft carrier to unleash a strong electromagnetic pulse that can paralyze the radar and telecommunications system of the aircraft carrier and vessels around it.
If this happens, the air defense missile systems of the aircraft carrier will not function without the functioning control radars, enabling the Chinese military forces to destroy an aircraft carrier and escort warships quickly.
According to Christian D. Orr, former US President Trump’s administration has been the only one in American history to take the threat of a deliberate EMP attack seriously. Trump issued an Executive Order in March 2019, which directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop quadrennial risk assessments of EMP.
While the Biden administration has continued this Executive Order but suspended the one aimed at securing the US’ bulk power system, and because of this, the US continues to import Extra High Voltage (EHV) Transformers from China, making the US potentially more susceptible to EMP and cyber-attacks, Orr wrote citing remarks from late Dr. Pry.
Dr. Pry also noted that the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill had allocated millions of dollars for additional studies on protecting electric grids and other critical infrastructure from EMP. However, no measures have been taken to bolster any vital infrastructures.
China has been investing in protecting its military forces and critical infrastructures from HEMP and other effects of nuclear weapons since the Cold War era.