Dim Mak 1: Vulnerability to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack*

Due to popular demand, Beyond Deadlines is reposting every Monday the still relevant articles of retired Armed Forces of the Philippines intelligence chief Brig. General Victor Corpus that appeared in his BD’s column, Views from the East.

December 7, 2016

CHINA and Russia are two potential U.S. adversaries that have the capability for this kind of attack.

An EMP attack can either come from an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), a long-range cruise missile (HN3 or Kh55), or an orbiting satellite armed with a nuclear or non-nuclear EMP warhead.

An insidious danger lurking like Damocles’ sword over America are innocent-looking satellites disguised for civilian purposes but carry powerful EMP-enhanced warheads. Russia even went to the extent of developing suitcase and hand grenade versions of EMP weapons for use by their SPETSNAZ commandos.

The Backgrounder, a journal published by The Heritage Foundation described EMP thus: The scientific principles behind generating a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse are relatively simple. If a nuclear weapon is detonated between 25 miles and 300 miles above the earth’s surface, the radiation from the explosion interacts with air molecules to produce high-energy electrons that speed across the earth’s magnetic field as an instantaneous, invisible electromagnetic pulse.

An EMP can have devastating consequences for developed countries, because any metallic conductor in the area affected becomes a “receiver” for the powerful energy burst released by the blast. Such receivers include anything with electronic wiring – from airplanes and automobiles to computers, railroad tracks and communication lines. If systems connected to these receivers are not protected, they will be damaged by the intense energy pulse.

Having repeatedly refused to agree on a ban on putting weapons in space, the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack. Such repeated refusals send clear signals to China and Russia of the U.S.’ intention to deploy weapons in space. The U.S. refusal and moves to dominate outer space are strong motivations for the two countries to speedily develop their own space-based weapon system.

An orbiting satellite carrying a miniaturized, EMP-enhanced, megaton-size warhead exploding some 400 kilometers above central U.S. (Omaha, Nebraska) can blanket the continental U.S. with an electro-magnetic pulse in less than one second.

Electricity and electronics are so pervasive in American society and military, increasing the country’s susceptibility to an EMP attack. A single attack can bring catastrophic consequences.

It will damage most electrical grids in the U.S. mainland. It will disable computers and other similar electronic devices with microchips. It will bring motor vehicles on the road to a full stop, causing massive traffic jams. Trains, planes and ships will cease to function altogether. Life support systems in hospitals will be severely affected. Power plants will close. People will have to go back to firewood to heat their homes.

With electricity and electronic devices failing, most businesses and industries will shut down. Basic services will be disrupted. The entire U.S. economy will practically grind to a halt. Satellites within line of sight of the EMP burst will also be damaged, adversely affecting military command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (C4ISTAR). Land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles will be rendered unserviceable in their silos. Anti-ballistic missile defenses will suffer the same fate.

In short – total blackout. No TV. No radio. No internet. No cell phone or land line communication. No heater. No air conditioner. No water in faucets. No gas in the pump. Food crops remain in the field. Supermarkets emptied. The after-effects of such an attack will be long-lasting, and a difficult recovery period for America.

American society as we know it will be thrown back to the Dark Ages. The catastrophic effects of EMP are best described by the 2004 EMP Threat Commission Report chaired by Dr. William R. Graham: 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 American society depends. Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the Nation.

Depending on the specific characteristics of the attacks, unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result. In that event, a regional or national recovery would be long and difficult and would seriously degrade the safety and overall viability of our Nation. The primary avenues for catastrophic damage to the Nation are through our electric power infrastructure and thence into our telecommunications, energy, and other infrastructures. These, in turn, can seriously impact other important aspects of our Nation’s life, including the financial system; means of getting food, water, and medical care to the citizenry; trade; and production of goods and services. The recovery of any one of the key national infrastructures is dependent on the recovery of others. The longer the outage, the more problematic and uncertain the recovery will be. It is possible for the functional outages to become mutually reinforcing until at some point the degradation of infrastructure could have irreversible effects on the country’s ability to support its population.

Because of the devastating effects of an EMP attack on the U.S. economy and military, the U.S. may decide to strike first, but China and Russia now have the capacity to retaliate with their own submarine-launched ballistic missiles, road-mobile ICBMs protected by 5,000 kilometers of strategic tunnel that are immune from EMP, strategic bombers — and most probably, their own EMP-armed satellites as well — with equally devastating results.

China’s strategy of “active defense” demands that when a war with the U.S. becomes imminent and America starts mobilizing or is poised to strike, China will seize the initiative, as mandated by its military doctrine, by striking first. China has repeatedly announced that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons.

But as an old Chinese saying goes: “There can never be too much deception in war.” If the survival of the whole nation is at stake, then China will surely disavow a public statement that binds its hands and prevents it from seizing the initiative.

Put another way: “All is fair in love and war.”


* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.


Victor Corpus, M.P.A.
A graduate of Philippine Military Academy Cl’67; MPA ’90 from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Brig. Gen. Victor N. Corpus, (AFP, retired) spent five years with the New People’s Army (1971-76); detained for 10 years under Martial Law and sentenced to death by musketry; and became Chief, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Can be reached at: viccor2003@yahoo.com

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