The Electronic Blanket (The Electromagnetic Nuclear Bomb)
High-altitude electromagnetic pulses (HEMP) produced by high-altitude bursts occur in an area of the atmosphere where the density of the air is low. Because of this, the gamma rays can travel very far before they are absorbed. These rays travel downward into the increasingly dense atmosphere. The electric field has a rise time of about 1 nanosecond.
Even with such a short pulse, the effects can be tremendous. For a high altitude burst, the effects can also be far reaching. By many calculations, one properly placed nuclear bomb (possibly hidden in a satellite) detonated above the center of the United States could produce huge electrical fields. "The EMP from a single hydrogen bomb exploded 300 kilometers over the heart of the United States could set up an electrical field 50 kV/m strong over nearly all of North America".
Since EMP is electromagnetic radiation traveling at the speed of light, all of the area could possibly be effected almost simultaneously. All communications, television, radio, cars, trucks, planes, etc would be effected resulting in an Electronic blanket where all electronics could be neutralized including the knowledge of the Nuclear attack. The U.S. Air Force hit Iraqi TV with a electromagetic pulse device during the Iraqi war in order to knock it off the air.
The highly classified bomb created a brief pulse of microwaves powerful enough to fry Iraqi computers, blind radar, silence radios, trigger crippling power outages and disable the electronic ignitions in their vehicles and aircraft. In the 1980s, Americans feared neutron bombs that could kill everyone but leave the infrastructure intact.
Today, Americans should fear a different kind of Nuclear Threat
that can instantaneously destroy power grids, electronic systems, and communications along an entire coast but spare people. This destruction would result from the split-second release of a high-energy electromagnetic pulse (EMP) after a nuclear bomb is detonated miles above the Earth and outside the atmosphere.
Within a week of the blast, although no one would be instantly killed, the disruption of food and water supplies and health care caused by the shutdown of transportation, computers, networks, electronic equipment, and communication systems would have serious consequences for millions of people. Recovering from such an attack could take years.
The U.S. military first witnessed this phenomenon after a series of high-altitude nuclear tests in the Johnston Atoll in 1962 generated a disruption in electronic equipment in Hawaii, nearly 1,000 miles away. According to reports, the EMP interrupted radio broadcasts, caused streetlights to malfunction and burglar alarms to sound, and resulted in electronic failures across the islands despite their great distance from the test site.
Understanding the EMP Threat - the Scientific Principles
behind generating a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse are relatively easy to understand. A nuclear weapon is detonated between 25 miles and 300 miles above the Earth's surface; the radiation reaching the atmosphere interacts with air molecules to produce high-energy electrons that speed across the Earth's magnetic field as an instantaneous, invisible electromagnetic pulse.
A nuclear device must be detonated above the Earth's atmosphere in order to generate the high-altitude EMP effects. 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. Depending on the strength of the pulse and the vulnerability of the equipment, the effects could range from interrupted phone conversations and radio interference to the melting of components in every type of electrical system. An EMP damages unprotected electronic equipment within the blast's line of sight.
The size of the area in harm's way, the EMP's "footprint" on the Earth's surface is determined by the altitude of the explosion. The higher the altitude, the greater the land area affected. A Scud-type ballistic missile launched from a vessel off the U.S. coast and detonated at an altitude of 95 miles would degrade electronic systems across one-fourth of the United States.
A Taepo Dong-2 missile launched from North Korea could deliver a warhead 300 miles above America, enough to degrade electronic systems throughout the country. Crude weapons with low yields, like those used against Japan in World War II, could cripple the United States.
Possible Electromagnetic Nuclear Bomb Scenarios
A rogue-state leader decides to launch an EMP attack on the United States to improve the odds of winning a regional conflict. After obtaining an ICBM equipped with a nuclear warhead, the rogue leader invades one of the US Allies. The United States is called upon to liberate its ally. A few weeks into the war, the said leader launches a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead toward the United States.
It is detonated 50 miles above a section of the American West. Although no people are harmed, there is a regional blackout. The rogue state gloats, having leveled the playing field and weakened U.S. resolve by demonstrating his ability to deliver a nuclear weapon to U.S. soil. The President refuses to launch a counter nuclear attack out of fear that it would kill millions of innocent people.
An enemy explodes a nuclear device over a theater of combat or an area containing allied assets to cripple the United States. North Korea has decided to take South Korea but faces U.S. troops stationed there. It explodes a nuclear device over the extreme southern part of the Korean peninsula. The EMP effect covers all of Korea, with the strongest effects occurring below the demilitarized zone.
North Korea's military is harmed, but the damage is far less severe than that experienced by U.S. and South Korean forces since they rely on modern electronics to a much greater extent. Because the U.S. and allied forces are unable to utilize their advanced radar, communications, and networked systems, they suffer a major decline in warfighting capabilities. Electronic systems on a carrier battlegroup on its way to the Korea are damaged as well.
A surprise terrorist attack is launched against the United States, but the aggressor cannot be identified. An unknown aggressor launches a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead from a ship located at sea 150 miles east of New York City. The device explodes 80 miles above New York, spreading its effect over most of New York and Pennsylvania.
Wall Street shuts down, massive traffic tie-ups occur throughout the metropolitan region, and air traffic control systems are severely degraded. The crew of the ship immediately abandons the vessel and sinks it, and no one admits responsibility. Analysis leads the U.S. government to believe that the missile was probably a Scud variant, but because the United States cannot identify who launched it, there is no basis for retaliation.
An enemy uses an EMP blast as part of its war strategy against a U.S. ally. Suppose China commences another military exercise in the Taiwan Strait. As part of the exercise, it launches a ballistic missile in a trajectory over Taiwan. When the missile reaches 300 miles southeast of Taiwan, its nuclear warhead is detonated, releasing an EMP that affects the entire island.
The ensuing blackout incites mass confusion and seriously degrades the warfighting ability of the Taiwanese military. Taiwan is unable to defend itself and is forced either to sue for peace with the mainland or to call in the United States to defend it from attack.
A rogue leader wants to attack the United States but evade retaliation. Iran, which the 1998 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (the Rumsfeld Commission) reported "has the technical capability and resources to demonstrate an ICBM range ballistic missile within five years of the decision to deploy," decides to take hostile action against the United States after developing an ICBM.
It knows that a direct nuclear attack on the United States would result in the destruction of Tehran. It launches two missiles with nuclear warheads that detonate 250 miles above Illinois and Wyoming. The United States does not retaliate because no one is immediately killed. Not knowing whether Iran has other nuclear warheads, the United States decides to limit its response against Iran rather than risk a direct nuclear attack on a U.S. city.
Not everyone agrees on the effects of a high-altitude EMP
A 1991 study on the Effects of Geomagnetic Disturbances on Electric Power Transmission Systems published by the Electrical Power Research Institute points out that natural phenomena such as solar storms may cause more damage than an EMP blast, but according to Dr. Gordon Soper, a former Defense Department official responsible for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs who testified before the House Small Business Committee.
An EMP attack would result in an unacceptable disruption and damage to our commercial electronic infrastructure. Almost without exception, experts agree that a high-altitude EMP would damage America's electronics. They disagree about the extent of the damage and what should be done to prevent it.
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