Gordon Prather / AntiWar.com – 2004-08-24 07:53:16
(August 7, 2004) — A couple of weeks ago, the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack delivered its final report to Congress.
The Commission was asked to assess – among other things – “the nature and magnitude of potential high-altitude EMP threats to the United States from all potentially hostile states or non-state actors that have or could acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles enabling them to perform a high-altitude EMP attack against the United States within the next 15 years.”
What Is “EMP”?
Well, in Operation Dominic, a series of nuke tests we conducted over the Pacific in 1962, we learned – much to our surprise – then when a large megaton-yield anti-ballistic-missile nuke warhead is detonated at the very high altitudes where incoming Soviet nuke warheads would be intercepted, in addition to destroying the incoming Soviet warhead, our ABM nuke’s enhanced radiation also produces extreme charge separation in the underlying atmosphere. That is, the atoms in the air are not merely ionized – separated into positively-charged ions and negatively-charged electrons. Zillions of electrons are driven far away from the ions, creating humongous high-frequency ‘dipole’ radio transmitters.
The resulting multi-frequency electromagnetic pulse – EMP – can interfere catastrophically with the operation of electrical and electronic systems at considerable distances. That first high-altitude megaton-yield nuke test over Johnson Island resulted in power system failures in Hawaii, more than 700 miles away.
Once the EMP effect was discovered, we did two things. One was to spend a zillion dollars EMP-hardening all military electrical and electronic components and weapons systems.
The second was to see if specially designed nukes of much lower yield could produce EMP as the primary ‘kill mechanism’. Were we successful?
An EMP Attack Could Paralyze the US
Well, according to the Commission, China and Russia have considered limited nuclear attack options that, unlike their Cold War plans, 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 US congressional delegation to discuss the Balkans conflict, raised the specter of a Russian EMP attack that would paralyze the United States.
The Commission concluded that such an attack – non-lethal, in and of, itself – “has the potential to hold our society at risk and might result in defeat of our military forces.”
Of course, it is one thing for Russia or China to have that capability. It is quite another for a “potentially hostile state or non-state actor” to acquire a ballistic missile capable of delivering a thousand-pound megaton-yield nuke warhead to the continental United States and detonating it exo-atmospherically.
In fact, if al-Qaeda ever acquires a megaton-yield nuke, what reason do we have for supposing they would choose some non-lethal use for it? Wouldn’t they just smuggle it into Washington and attempt to detonate it. [Hollywood to the contrary, detonating on the ground a nuke that was designed to be carried to 500,000 feet by a missile and then detonated, is not a ‘slam-dunk’.]
Nevertheless, the Commission devoted considerable effort to assessing the EMP threat posed by terrorists.
But what about North Korea?
The R-27 Missile Could Reach Hawaii
According to Jane’s, North Korea has developed and is deploying, two new missile systems, both based on the Soviet R-27 liquid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The R-27 – as deployed by the Soviets during the 1970s and 1980s – had an operational range of about 1600 miles carrying a 1.2 megaton nuke warhead. Jane’s says the Korean ground-launched model could have a range of about 2500 miles, bringing Hawaii into range.
However, if the Koreans have substantially increased the range of the liquid-fueled R-27, they have probably done it the way they increased the range of their chief “cash crop”, Soviet liquid-fueled Scuds; by increasing the lengths of the fuel tanks. The cost of that extra fuel is decreased payload.
The R-27 Poses No Threat
The Korean R-27 could hardly deliver a
thousand-pound 1.2 megaton nuke warhead to Hawaii – much less detonate it at 250,000 feet over Hawaii – even if the Russians were to give them one.
In fact, the Korean R-27 could hardly deliver to Waikiki Beach one of the first-generation plutonium-implosion nukes they are suspected of having. The Korean nukes – if they exist – must weigh at least a thousand pounds. Our first generation plutonium-implosion nuke – the one we dropped on Nagasaki 59 years ago – weighed ten thousand pounds.
Nevertheless, as silly as it sounds, both the EMP-Commission report and the Jane’s report on new Korean missiles are being used as justification for the Clinton ABM system now being installed by Bush in Alaska.
Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to US Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. — ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.