The nation’s military is largely unprotected in the event an enemy launches a nuclear bomb that would fry microchips and the power grid with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., tells Newsmax.
Since the early 1990s, “Essentially all our new weapon systems have been built with a waiver for EMP hardening,” says Bartlett, a scientist and inventor who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces.
“If an enemy used an EMP enhanced weapon — and Russian generals told our EMP commission that they had developed weapons which emit 200 kilovolts per meter weapon — I’ve been assured by experts in the area that everything would be down,” says Bartlett, who has been the leading member of Congress fighting to recognize EMP as a threat.
In fact, “One of the first things [an enemy] would do is an EMP laydown to deny you the use of all your equipment which is not EMP hardened, which is essentially all our equipment,” Bartlett says. “They don’t harden against EMP any more.”
As noted in the Newsmax story EMP Attack Would Send America into a Dark Age, in a matter of seconds, an electromagnetic pulse attack from a nuclear bomb would set America back to the 14th century. If exploded more than 250 miles above the Midwest, such a bomb would emit a fast electromagnetic burst that would destroy the chips that are at the heart of every electronic device in North America. A slower burst lasting up to several minutes would create very high voltages that would destroy the transformers and computers that are essential to the national electric distribution system.
Because of the difficulty of obtaining replacement transformers, Bartlett says, electric power might not be restored for years.
A severe geomagnetic storm such as the one that occurred in 1859 would have a similar effect on the power grid, and a recurrence of such a storm is considered inevitable. In the event the power grid goes down because of EMP, much of the military would be without power. While many military installations have backup generators, they generally only have enough fuel to last for a few days, Bartlett says.
Because an EMP attack would devastate the civil sector, few in the military would ever get to work. Because cars made after the 1970s depend on computer chips, vehicles would not work. Nor would airplanes or trains. The food distribution system and water supply systems would shut down. Forget about computers and the Internet, heating and air conditioning, hospitals, gasoline stations, police and fire departments, radio and television, medicine, credit cards, and ATM machines. Records of investments would be gone.
Bartlett started looking into the EMP threat in the early 1990s. Because Tom Clancy had written about it in one of his novels and Clancy lives in his state, Bartlett called him. Clancy put him in touch with Dr. Lowell L. Wood Jr., a leading expert who was then at the University of California and later became a member of the nonpartisan congressional commission to study EMP.
Wood told Bartlett that even a modest, single-explosion EMP attack could devastate the United States as a modern, postindustrial nation. But he said that through Republican and Democratic administrations, the attitude in the government has been that dealing with the EMP threat is just too difficult and “no one wants to think about it.”
Bartlett began holding congressional hearings on EMP. Pentagon officials told him that shielding weapons systems and fighter jets against EMP would cost just 3 percent to 10 percent of the total price of equipment but is not worth it because there is not a high probability such an attack would ever occur. As it happens, Clancy also envisioned a terrorist flying a hijacked Boeing 747 crashing into the Capitol. No one took the possibility of such an attack seriously — until 9/11.
Bartlett notes that there is not a high probability a home will burn down, but homeowners buy fire insurance anyway. In contrast to a home burning down, an EMP attack would be expected to wipe out the country for decades.
An estimated 80 percent of the population would die within a year of an EMP strike from starvation or disease or would freeze to death, according to William Graham, who was chairman of the congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. Yet at a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on July 21, Graham testified that the government has done virtually nothing to address the effects of such an attack on the civil sector. In its disaster scenarios, the Department of Homeland Security does not even address the possibility of an EMP strike.
As for the military, “At each hearing when it was appropriate, I would ask the admiral or the general how much of your war-fighting capability remains after a robust EMP laydown,” Bartlett says. “Invariably they would turn to their aides behind them to see if they could get an answer — we’ll get back to you on the record for that — because they didn’t know.”
Yet, says Bartlett, Russian, Chinese, and Iranian military war plans envision an EMP attack on the U.S. While the Defense Department agreed with the recommendations of the 2008 EMP commission report that it should take EMP into account, no change has actually occurred in how DOD procures weapons systems and equipment, experts say.
“A tramp steamer with a SCUD launcher, which they can buy for $100,000, and any crude nuclear weapon shuts down all of New England or all of California,” Bartlett says. “It could be done by a terrorist. It will not be launched from anybody’s soil. These people are evil, but they aren’t idiots.”
That is why shielding is so important. While the effects of EMP would be catastrophic, protection against it in both the military and civil sectors is relatively simple and reasonable in cost. As one example, data centers backing up financial records and investments can be protected by encasing them in light weight copper mesh that is grounded. The outlay could be as low as one percent to 10 percent of the cost of a facility, especially if shielding is included when a structure is built, according to Gale Nordling, president of Minneapolis-based Emprimus, which protects against EMP.
“All I want my country to do is the equivalent of buying an insurance policy,” Bartlett says. “I don’t hire someone to stand up and watch my house all night to see if there’s a fire, and yell fire, fire, so I can get out. But I do have smoke detectors and I do have fire insurance. I don’t think we have anything even approaching that for our country.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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