A member of ALTADENA GROUP
CSIA Foundation

There’s no shortage of talk over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Israel has said point-blank that it would not hesitate to attack Iran (again) if Tehran continues with a weapons program, and both presidential candidates in the United States have said that Iran is dangerous and shouldn’t have nuclear capabilities. However, the real threat has largely not been discussed by the media in the US. A report issued in April by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack notes that an EMP attack could be one of the most devastating types of attack against US military and civilians assets, and wreak havoc on the economy - without requiring a very sophisticated nuclear weapon.

Dr. William Graham, who heads the panel, has noted that recent missile tests by Iran have been suspciously different from past ones. In a private conference last weekend, Dr. Graham outlined the evidence. Among other issues, Iran has detoned warheads at the top of the missile’s vertical range, or apogee - where the curvature of the Earth would not block the maximum broadcast of an EMP signal.

According to Dr. Graham, the Iranians have 'detonated the warhead near apogee, not over the target area where the thing would eventually land, but at altitude. Why would they do that?”

Additional concern comes from where and how the missiles are actually launched - in some cases, from the Caspian Sea, which may be used to simulate any major body of water. A fishing vessel or other innocuous-looking boat could be used for the launch without raising suspicion.

“They’ve got ranges in Iran which are more than long enough to handle Scud launches and even Shahab-3 launches,” said Dr. Graham. “Why would they be launching from the surface of the Caspian Sea? They obviously have not explained that to us.”

Such an attack would be an immediate and sudden disaster for the United States, and likely lead to a nationwide humanitarian crisis, as so much national infrastructure relies on electricity. A wide-scale chain of events would result in massive confusion and chaos. Recovering from an EMP attack would likely take decades and require trillions of dollars. A missile shield or other defense system could effectively stop such a threat.

However, there are some deterrents that exist today. United States military assets are still located all over the world, and we have many NATO allies who could be called upon to respond in such a crisis. Most satellites would likely not have been affected by the EMP signal. Many government buildings, and equipment relating to national security (including aircraft) are also shielded against EMP, so the effect would be limited and they might still be able to operate afterwards.

The most likely user of a weapon like this would likely be a terrorist group that does not fear reprisal, or as with al-Qaeda, one whose stated goal is to generate conflicts between the West and the rest of the world. Of course, the military has been designing weapons to handle EMP for decades. Civilians can also do this, if they so choose. Click here for an Army manual on EMP shielding .


Additional material:
The Emerging EMP Threat to the United States , by Dr. Mark Schneider

Discussion in Congress by Representative Roscoe Bartlett, (R) Virginia

RP Eddy , from the Manhattan Institute, on the threat of EMP

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