For 17 years, the Congressional
EMP Commission warned that a nuclear
electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack would black out
electric grids and other life-sustaining critical
infrastructures, posing an existential threat to our
The EMP threat is proven by:
• High-altitude (above 30 kilometers) nuclear tests by
the U.S. and Russia.
• Decades of underground nuclear testing.
• More than 50 years of testing by EMP simulators.
• Known destructive effects of natural EMP from solar
storms, non-nuclear EMP weapons, accidental
electromagnetic transients (all typically less powerful
than nuclear EMP).
• Known fragility of electric grids and other critical
infrastructures to EMP and cascading failures from a
wide variety of causes.
• Russia, China and North
Korea featuring EMP in war plans and testing
nuclear weapons capable of EMP attack.
Yet ignorant journalists, academics, non-experts posing
as EMP specialists and deep strategic thinkers dominate
press reporting that the EMP threat is “not real” and
“merely theoretical” and “untested.”
Unfortunately, enough people in the U.S. government have
imbibed such uninformed nonsense that recommendations of
the EMP Commission to protect the nation are ignored.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose EMP naysayers
are correct, the threat is “merely theoretical” and
“untested.” Does this justify leaving the nation
vulnerable to the supposedly “unproven” existential
threat from an EMP?
Military history and common sense answers this question
in the negative. EMP naysayers can begin their
re-education by reading Bernard Brodie’s history of
military technology, “From Crossbow to H-Bomb.”
Since before Alexander the Great introduced the sarissa,
a spear twice as long as those typically in use in 300
B.C., and the Macedonian phalanx employing the sarissas
in conquest of the Persian Empire, warfare has often
been the story of new technologies and new tactics
surprising and prevailing over the old. New technologies
and tactics are almost always “unproven” and “untested”
until winning decisively on the battlefield, as
Alexander did at Issus (333 B.C.) and Guagamela (331
B.C.), introducing a new way of warfare.
Scholars call such breakthroughs in military technology
and tactics a “revolution in military affairs.” Some
• Battle of Cynoscephalae (197 B.C.): The Macedonian
phalanx and Hellenistic Empire is eventually conquered
by Rome’s use of new technologies and tactics in their
legions, including military roads and battlefield
artillery, like the scorpion and catapult.
• Battle of Adrianople (324 A.D.): Foot-powered Roman
legions are defeated by cavalry that becomes dominant on
• Battle of Crecy (1346 A.D.): The longbow and cannon
herald doom of mounted knights, castles and the Age of
• Battle of the ironclads Monitor and Virginia (1862):
Never before tested in combat, the ironclads make
obsolete the age of sail and wooden frigates,
revolutionizing naval warfare.
• Battle of France (1940): Nazi Germany’s surprise
War”) of tanks and air power, and Imperial Japan’s
surprise use of carrier aviation at Pearl Harbor (1941),
nearly wins World War II, and these technological and
tactical innovations become the basis for modern
In the nuclear missile age, “untested” and “unproven”
technologies are the norm for deterring and, if
necessary, fighting nuclear wars that have been, since
1946, entirely theoretical. Yet science and engineering
have so advanced that nuclear weapons and their various
effects are more assuredly destructive than any previous
For example, the Hiroshima atomic bombing (1945) was
done with a uranium-fueled gun-type weapon never proven
or tested. (The Trinity atomic test was a
plutonium-fueled implosion A-bomb used on Nagasaki.)
The phenomenology of making an optimized nuclear blast —
detonating an A-bomb a half-mile above Hiroshima so the
shock wave would reflect off the ground, creating a
secondary shock wave reinforcing the first and
significantly increasing the lethal radius — was
entirely theoretical and never done before or tested. If
the Hiroshima A-bomb yielded 1-kiloton instead of
10-kilotons detonating a half-mile high, it would have
been a dud, with the entire U.S. stockpile of
weapons-grade uranium lost over Japan.
Yet the Hiroshima atomic bombing worked perfectly, a
“miracle” of modern science.
Other examples abound where the calculational
super-competence of modern science and engineering are
alone sufficient to “prove” nuclear weapon systems for
• No U.S. ICBMs have ever been singly or salvo-launched
from operational missile silos to prove capability by
• No U.S. submarines have ever proved “ripple-firing”
all of their 16-24 missiles in testing.
• Since the U.S.-USSR 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, 54
years ago, nuclear ground-bursts, airbursts and exo-atmospheric
bursts have not been tested.
• Since the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty 43 years ago,
U.S. nuclear weapons with yields above 150 kilotons
(most strategic weapons) have been untested.
Since 1992, 25 years ago, no U.S. nuclear weapons — not
one — have been tested. But
all 1,500 are certified yearly as safe and ready,
another “miracle” of modern science upon which depends
the foundation of U.S. national security — nuclear
Korea may not be deterred if the U.S. fails
to protect against the well-proven threat from EMP —
leaving America vulnerable.
So ignore the ignorant EMP naysayers. Vulnerability to
an existential threat is never a good idea.
• Dr. Peter
Vincent Pry is chief of staff of the congressional
EMP Commission and served in the House Armed
Services Committee and the CIA.