Several nations, including China and Russia, are building powerful nuclear bombs designed to produce super-electromagnetic pulse (EMP) waves capable of devastating all electronics—from computers to electric grids—for hundreds of miles, according to a newly-released congressional study.
A report by the now-defunct Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, for the first time reveals details on how nuclear EMP weapons are integrated into the military doctrines of China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.
The report discloses how those states could use EMP attacks in theaters of battle in the Middle East, Far East, Europe, and North America.
"Nuclear EMP attack is part of the military doctrines, plans, and exercises of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran for a revolutionary new way of warfare against military forces and civilian critical infrastructures by cyber, sabotage, and EMP," the report states.
"This new way of warfare is called many things by many nations: In Russia, China, and Iran it is called Sixth Generation Warfare, Non-Contact Warfare, Electronic Warfare, Total Information Warfare, and Cyber Warfare."
Nuclear-electronic warfare also is called "Blackout War" because of its effects on all electronic devices.
EMP attacks will be carried out at such high altitudes they will produce no blast or other immediate effects harmful to humans. Instead, three types of EMP waves in seconds damage electronics and the strikes are regarded by adversaries as not an act of nuclear war.
"Potential adversaries understand that millions could die from the long-term collateral effects of EMP and cyber-attacks that cause protracted black-out of national electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures," the report said.
The attacks are regarded by enemy military planners as a relatively easy, potentially unattributable means of inflicting mass destruction and forcing opponents to capitulate.
EMP strikes can be adjusted in the size of the area and the intensity of the wave by detonating at different altitudes. The closer to the earth the more powerful is the pulse. The higher the altitude, the wider the area of impact.
"A single nuclear weapon can potentially make an EMP attack against a target the size of North America," the report said. "Any nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 30 kilometers [18.6 miles] or higher will generate a potentially catastrophic EMP."
Super-EMP bombs produce gamma rays that generate a peak EMP field of 200,000 volts per meter—enough to fry strategic communications and intelligence systems. China, Russia, and probably North Korea are said to have these arms, according to the commission. The United States has no super-EMP weapons in its nuclear arsenal.
The bombs do not require accuracy and the weapons do not require a re-entry vehicle, heat shield, and shock absorbers required for nuclear warheads detonated in the atmosphere above targets.
The weapons can be delivered through a variety of means including satellites, long- or medium-range missile; short-range missiles launched from a freighter; from some cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles; from jets or a commercial jetliner; or a meteorological balloon.
The declassified report was cleared for release by the Pentagon after a security review and provides graphics showing for the first time in an official government publication how nuclear detonations triggered 18.6 miles to 248 miles above the earth will produce targeted electronic waves stretching up to 1,500 miles.
Portions of the report are redacted in order to prevent adversaries from learning U.S. electronic vulnerabilities.
The report shows how Iran—a state U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed is one year away from building a nuclear weapon—could use a single nuclear weapon fired on a medium-range missile to black out Israel, Egypt and Israel together, or Saudi Arabia without creating blast damage.
China also could use EMP weapons to plunge the island of Taiwan into electronic darkness and disable aircraft carrier strike groups sailing to defend Taiwan from a mainland attack.
North Korea could set off a nuclear bomb in space over Japan. Both Japan and Taiwan are heavily reliant on electronics that are vulnerable to EMP.
Russia could fire off one of its super-EMP bombs over Europe to throw NATO and the continent into darkness and create chaos as well, according to the report.
The Islamic State might acquire a nuclear weapon from North Korea or Iran along with a short-range missile that could loft it into space and detonate over Italy.
For the United States, an EMP war scenario is shown as the result of conflicts involving Russian strikes on Canada and U.S. retaliation using conventional precision strikes.
In a major conflict with either China or Russia, the first shot in the war could be a space burst of a super EMP weapon designed to knock out U.S. nuclear command and control and weapons.
"A super-EMP warhead, in the possession of Russia or North Korea, could put at risk the best protected U.S. assets, even threatening the survival of the U.S. nuclear deterrent," the report said.
Moscow has adopted a new nuclear strategy called escalate to de-escalate a conflict with nuclear arms that the report suggests is tailored to space-based EMP attacks.
Russian nuclear missile submarines could use super-EMP warhead to paralyze U.S. strategic and conventional forces and blackout the national grid.
The report states that 14 EMP bursts up to 60 miles would create powerful electronic waves for key facilities, including national missile defenses at Alaska and California; the command center at the Pentagon outside Washington; and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado.
Other EMP strikes would shut down missile and bomber wings in Minot, North Dakota, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
Bomber wings in Missouri, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Texas also could be blacked out along with nuclear missile submarine bases in Washington and Georgia.
A U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan could lead to Beijing conducting a black-out EMP strike on the lower 48 states that it hopes would disrupt military command and control and communications and knock the United States out of the regional Asian conflict.
Iran, too, could launch a long-range missile nuclear attack in space over the United States as a way for the Islamic regime in Tehran to destroy what its leaders regard as the "Great Satan."
If North Korea or Iran covertly supplies the al Qaeda terrorist group with a nuclear weapon, the terrorist group that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could obtain a short-range mobile missile and fire the nuclear warhead into space above the country as part of its war against the United States.
North Korea, which several years ago covertly transferred SA-10 surface-to-air missiles on a ship after repairs in Cuba, could use a short-range missile with a nuclear warhead to black out the Texas electric grid in a bid to force the United States to halt military exercises in South Korea.
"The United States is particularly vulnerable to this new type of warfare, because we have come to rely on information systems and computerized technologies," said Peter Pry, a former CIA officer, commission member, and author of the new report.
"Much of the administrative information in the armed forces goes through the civilian internet," he said. "Ours is the most technologically advanced society, and therefore the most susceptible to attack. What is surprising is that our enemies do not consider an EMP attack to be an act of nuclear war."
The report makes clear that the potential use of EMP attacks is a real danger and one openly discussed in military doctrine writings.
Russian Gen. Vladimir Slipchenko first disclosed Moscow's intentions for using EMP in his book "Non-Contact Wars" in 2000. "A single low-yield nuclear weapon exploded for this purpose high above the area of combat operations can generate an electromagnetic pulse covering a large area and destroying electronic equipment without loss of life that is caused by the blast or radiation," he stated.
China's military doctrine is similar and was outlined in a book on "Total Information Warfare."
"As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt," the author Shen Weiguang wrote.
Shen urged China to build "nuclear electromagnetic pulse" along with cyber weapons that will "enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States."
Iran's doctrine is contained in a military textbook "Passive Defense" that calls for EMP attacks. "As a result of not having the other destructive effects that nuclear weapons possess, among them the loss of human life, weapons derived from electromagnetic pulses have attracted attention with regard to their use in future wars," the book states.
North Korea has threatened to use nuclear EMP attacks following its most recently underground nuclear test. State-run North Korean media said the thermonuclear test blast involved tests for EMP strikes.
The latest EMP commission report, "Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios and Combined-Arms Cyber Warfare," is the 13th and final report of the commission. It is dated July 2017. However, as a result of a lengthy security review the report was made public last week.