The risk of electromagnetic pulse devastation is greater than ever. Why does Washington dismiss it? That’s the question asked and answered in recent article in the American Legion magazine that highlights the findings of the National Commission chartered by Congress to assess the EMP threat. A nuclear weapon detonated in space could wreck havoc on the electronic components of our national infrastructure.

And that is not the only electro-magnetic threat we should worry about. The New Scientist reports that solar flares could produce similar effects. Nor are these catastrophic threats the only potential danger to our electrical systems.

There are potential means to create localized EMP effects. An alternative weapon would be a bomb that takes the chemical energy of explosives, coverts it into electrical energy, then to magnetic energy, and finally microwave energy that could overwhelm low voltage electrical systems. There are many claims that such weapons can be easily built. One boasts that a weapon could be produced with a few kilograms of high explosive for $2-400 and be capable of incapacitating unshielded systems a kilometer away.

Electromagnetic jamming is also feasible and could be used in a number of innovative ways.  Jamming could be a way to reach targets that are not vulnerable to direct assault. It might be employed to attack critical infrastructure such as disrupting GPS signals. Electronic attacks could also be used in combination with other strikes to maximize their effects. Jamming might, for example, be employed after a bombing to incapacitate television, radio, and cell phones in a local area, complicating efforts by first responders and exacerbating fear in the civilian population.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the modern world’s super highway, it is also as vulnerable to disruption as every other part of our infrastructure—making it more resilient in the face of natural and manmade threats ought to be a priority. My colleague Jena McNeill and Richard Weitz make some useful recommendations in “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: A Preventable Homeland Security Catastrophe.”

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