High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices: Threat Assessments
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS WASHINGTON DC CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
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Electromagnetic Pulse EMP is an intense energy field that can instantly overload or disrupt numerous electrical circuits at a distance. Modern high technology microcircuits are especially sensitive to power surges, and the possible vulnerability of U.S. civilian computer systems to the effects of EMP has been discussed in the media. EMP can be produced on a large scale using a single nuclear explosion, and on a smaller, non-nuclear scale using a device with batteries or chemical explosives. Several nations, including reported sponsors of terrorism, may currently have a capability to use EMP as a weapon for cyber warfare or cyber terrorism, to disrupt computers, communications systems, or parts of the U.S. critical infrastructure The threat of an attack against the United States involving EMP is hard to assess, but some observers indicate that it is growing along with worldwide access to newer technologies and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the past, the threat of mutually assured destruction provided a lasting deterrent against the exchange of multiple high-yield nuclear warheads. However, now a single, specially-designed low-yield nuclear explosion high above the United States, or over a battlefield, can produce an EMP effect that results in a widespread loss of electronics, but no direct fatalities, and may not necessarily evoke a large nuclear retaliatory strike by the U.S. military. This, coupled with the possible vulnerability of U.S. commercial electronics and U.S. military battlefield equipment to the effects of EMP, may create a new incentive for other countries to develop or acquire a nuclear capability.
- Electromagnetic Pulses