Question tabled on electromagnetic pulses and the National Security Strategy

I have tabled a question for written answer on electromagnetic pulses and the National Security Strategy arising from the meeting I went to yesterday:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government:


“What consideration was given to the threat to the critical national infrastructure of a high intensity electromagnetic pulse, produced either by malign intent or as a result of solar activity, in preparing the National Security Strategy.”

4 thoughts on “Question tabled on electromagnetic pulses and the National Security Strategy”

  1. I hope you’ll be able to publish a summary of the unclassified bits of the answer. On reflection my previous comment might have been a tad complacent. We’re much more reliant on electronics now than 30 years ago when many telephone exchanges and control systems were still electromechanical and thus far less vulnerable.

    Some of the “worst case” Y2K planning might be applicable. That foresaw widespread disruption to infrastructure and vehicles. I must dig out my old notes, perhaps there’s still a market for them!

    However I still would think that the risk from a deliberate attack is minimal. As one of the military boffins I met at the seminar I attended pointed out, the effects of EMP from a weapon are unpredictable and likely to damage the aggressor’s infrastructure in addition to the target’s. I doubt that a terrorist group would risk potentially “wasting” a precious weapon on such attack when it could make a more certain impact with a ground one. But my stomach isn’t strong enough, and my imagination is too vivid, for much military scenario planning…

    To trot out another hobby-horse, perhaps this is a good reason to retain at least some of the national analogue broadcasting network. Analogue transmitters are less sophisticated than digital ones and thus easier to repair and a basic AM receiver can be cobbled together with very simple components but digital ones can’t be…

  2. Brian, unfortunately the alternative outcome with the massive damage that one nuclear warhead could accomplish by annihilating the power grid for all of Europe or America might be worth the risk of “wasting” a precious weapon. Think about it. Why waste the manpower and weapons to go to war with a nation when with one warhead, you could take out up to 90% of the nation within a year while still preserving the land’s rich natural resources? It’s quite plausible, unfortunately.

  3. Economics and the likelihood of a 100 year solar storm or high-altitude nuclear blast.

    FEMA sponsored an economic impact assessment of a 30-100 year solar storm and showed the first year impact in the US to be a $1-2 trillion economic output loss before considering secondary effects. That result was similar to results we found when asking economists to look at the results of a regional high-altitude EMP scenario.

    The good news of the second study was that we found a substantial amount of the economic loss could be avoided by hardening just 10% of the critical infrastructure since it provided the means to maintain situational awareness, maintain minimal support systems and recover sooner.

    Since a solar storm of this magnitude is 100% likely over time, why not protect that 10% of the critical infrastructure in such a way that we reduce the temptation of a terrorist to use EMP in the first place? As it stands, using EMP is one of the least expensive ways to cause the most economic damage and therefore far more likely than it has to be. If we hardened core infrastructure, we could be prepared for the inevitable solar storm while minimizing the likelihood of a terrorist attack. It also would have the third benefit of hardening infrastructure against the use of very inexpensive though highly localized radio frequency weapons — triple benefits for the same effort.

    In the US, there are projects underway in the private sector to harden some infrastructure at little to no cost to the government. These are in the planning stage and may be shared publically in the next couple of months.

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