The high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon that is traveling across the U.S. could be a dry run to deliver a nuclear device that would wipe out America's power grid, according to a leading expert of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) devices.
"China's recent balloon flyover of the United States is clearly a provocative and aggressive act," retired Air Force Maj. David Stuckenberg, who once led the Defense Department's EMP Task Force, told the Washington Examiner. "It was most likely a type of dry run meant to send a strategic message to the USA. We must not take this for granted."
Stuckenberg, founder and chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation, wrote in a 2015 paper that high-altitude balloons would be the easiest to resource, equip, and launch a nuclear device in the atmosphere that would act as an EMP and dismantle the U.S. power grid.
Specifically, an EMP is a brief burst of electromagnetic energy causing interference that can disrupt communications, fry electronics, and, at higher outputs, even damage such things as planes and buildings.
"Using a balloon as a [weapon of mass destruction/weapon of mass effect] platform could provide adversaries with a pallet of altitudes and payload options with which to maximize offensive effects against the U.S.," Stuckenberg wrote.
The paper referenced Andrew Baird, a competition balloon pilot and owner of Cameron Balloons USA, a global balloon manufacturer, who said it's feasible for an individual to design, build and launch a balloon to reach altitudes from 35,000 to 200,000 feet carrying a payload of several hundred pounds.
"It's not complicated to do," Baird said in the paper, adding someone can seek commercial support to build and launch customized high-altitude balloons under the guise of scientific research.
Although "some aspects of balloon equipage are potentially difficult to resource, few elements required to create or launch designs are either monitored or regulated," Stuckenberg wrote. "In fact, a high-altitude balloon could be designed, created, and launched in a matter of months. There is nothing to prevent several hundred pounds of weapons material from being delivered to altitude."
Stuckenberg wrote that the U.S. needs a deeper understanding of the potential of adversaries to use low-tech strategic delivery options such as balloons.
"However, an unwillingness to explore novel and less technical approaches to WMD/WME [Weapons of Mass Destruction/Weapons of Mass Effect] delivery and/or a refusal to cast off Cold War dispositions concerning strategic threats could, similar to Pearl Harbor, allow an enemy to inflict deep trauma," Stuckenberg wrote.
"In the case of EMP, the consequences of a failure to anticipate ALL delivery modes within the reach of an imaginative enemy could be immediate and widespread."
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