High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse is a phenomenon produced by the detonation of nuclear weapons in the Earth’s upper most atmosphere or even in outer space very near to the Earth.
The EMP Threat.
HEMP, usually just referred to as EMP has been a publicly known phenomenon for some time. I was first made aware of the effects of HEMP when watching the 1995 007 film, Goldeneye. High-altitude nuclear detonations have a number of effects. One alarming effect is that the EMP generated can effect electronic equipment on the ground.
In Goldeneye televisions explode, fires start, arcs of electricity zap three MiGs til they crash and explode. But that is Hollywood. The questions about what a genuine HEMP will do are somewhat difficult to determine. Effects would certainly be dependent on the type of weapon and the altitude of detonation.
Between 1958 and 1962 the United States and the USSR conducted nuclear tests at orbital and suborbital altitudes.
The July 1962 test: Starfish Prime involved a 1.4 Megaton warhead detonated at 250 Miles above the earth. The test was conducted above Johnston Island.
The resulting EMP was so powerful that it was difficult to measure on the ground. Most of the instruments buried the needle when the device was detonated.
898 miles away in Hawaii the EMP effect destroyed about 300 streetlights. It caused many burglar alarms to activate, and it inflicted disabling damage to a Microwave Link used for telephone communication between the islands.
How EMP Destroys Electronics.
All nuclear weapons create an electromagnetic pulse when detonated. However when a nuclear weapon is detonated in the outer atmosphere or space the release of radiation interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field creating a much stronger EMP effect.
Ultimately the EMP is a massive release of radio waves. These waves interact with and charge antennas and radio receivers. The wires and circuits in electronic devices can act as receivers for this radiation due to its strength. As the circuits rapidly charge they can become damaged or disabled.
Long utility lines act as excellent receivers for this electromagnetic radiation. A massive surge of electricity would knock out power and damage infrastructure components.
Not Just a Blackout: Knowing when it’s EMP.
The power and effects of HEMP depend heavily on the type of weapon and the altitude it is deployed at. The effects are also limited by range.
Knowing the signs is critical for situational awareness. EMP will be significantly different than a typical power outage, but for some it will initially be quite similar.
Depending on one’s distance and shielding personal electronics may still function. The electric power utility will almost certainly fail within the range of the HEMP. Telephone service will fail due to damage to the lines and hard wired equipment. Internet goes along with that.
Even if something like a satellite phone survives the event, the satellites it would use would not survive. In the hours after an HEMP event a radio blackout will be present due to residual effects from the event. So surviving radios won’t be functional until this subsides.
At the time of detonation the device gives off a bright flash, at high altitude the flash effect may be brief.
Due to the interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field a typical Auroras will be present for several hours after a HEMP event. Witness reports from the high altitude tests report a lingering red glow from the point of detonation.
The status of current HEMP weapons is largely unknown. One known HEMP weapon was the SS-18 Mod 6 ICBM, retired in 2009 it was equipped with a single 20 Megaton warhead designed for HEMP. If it had been deployed in the same manner as Starfish Prime, it would have emitted an intensely destructive EMP thousands of miles in diameter.
Which weapons can be deployed for HEMP is not something that is typically advertised the the public. But the utility of HEMP is clear, massive short term communications disruption with potential long term power grid and infrastructure damage.
Who Can Deploy EMP Weapons?
Well that’s the bad news really. Russia, China and North Korea all have Nuclear Armed Ballistic Missiles capable of hitting the mainland US. The reach of the weapon largely depends on altitude as the weapon’s effect is limited by line of sight.
Just how effective a device would be ultimately depends on the yield and how it would be deployed. Russia or China could likely mount a very effective attack with an EMP weapon.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.Sun Tzu– The Art of War
If subjected to attack by EMP, much will depend on the preparedness minded individual’s initiative. This means taking initiative after an attack, recognizing the attack. But it also means taking the initiative to prepare for such an attack. Stay tuned for future articles on EMP preparedness.