Last time we began to look at the possibilities involving an attack on this nation via a nuclear payload of some sort. There are many possible mechanisms that could deliver such a blow, from a backpack sized “dirty” bomb to an ICBM level HEMP detonation/attack.
In looking at the probabilities surrounding any missile generated attack, the likelihood of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse attack is low, mostly based upon two things. For one, the only nations that would have not only the desire, but the capability of launching such an attack, China and Russia, would likely not do so based upon the fact that they depend so greatly upon us from a financial standpoint. China, in particular has a need to keep us in a position whereby we can keep buying their exports.
If there were to be a HEMP attack upon this nation, what would the damage really be? There are three factors that would determine the extent of that damage; altitude, size of warhead and location of detonation. As you can see from the map overlay of my post on 4 April, a detonation, or burst at an altitude of 300 miles would cover a radius of 1470 miles, covering all of the 48 states, most of Mexico and all of the populated areas of Canada. A burst at a lower altitude of 120 miles will affect a smaller area of 1000 miles in radius. Most nations simply do not have the infrastructure to support an ICBM level missile program that could provide a HEMP burst. There are some nations, such as Iran and N. Korea that could in fact deliver a burst at the 120 mile altitude, but no way to reach this nation from their own countries.
It would take a huge ship, along with a convoy of support ships to provide a launch platform that could get close enough to make such an event feasible. And I’m pretty certain we would be able to detect such a convoy were one of these rogue nations be foolish enough to make the attempt.
In looking at the sum total of damage that could be levied upon us, it would be a tossup for some people to decide which would be better for this nation. On the one hand, a HEMP attack would cripple our electrical systems and infrastructure beyond immediate repair and make most of the country electricity free for years. Industry after industry would be shut down, and any motorized transportation would be scattered at best. On the other hand, a low level nuclear detonation would cause not only immediate devastation in the blast area, but spread radioactive fallout across most of this country, poisoning and slowly killing millions from the after affects. Not to mention the contaminated soils and buildings that would cost billions to clean up.
In a high altitude detonation, the area under the blast zone would be relatively clean and safe to enter within minutes after the detonation. In a low altitude detonation, the area may not be clean enough to enter for two weeks or more. With a HEMP detonation, there would be no physical damage beyond the disruption of all electronic equipment and electrical infrastructure within the line of sight of the detonation. With a low altitude detonation, the blast and heat damage would be tremendous, and tons of debris would become airborne, and become passengers upon the prevailing winds.
A few devices detonated around the country at an altitude of 100 to 150 miles would be a more practical, and expected source of a HEMP detonation for most well connected terrorists, criminal organizations and smaller rogue nations. A Russian company called Novator  has recently begun to market what they call the Club-K Container Missile System for a mere ten million £s apiece. The missiles have a range of two hundred miles, and can be fired from the self contained launcher, which could very easily be concealed on a ship. Said ship could come within an easy range and be undetected by the authorities until it was too late.
Five missiles simultaneously launched and detonated over each of the four corners of America, as well the fifth one launched from the Gulf of Mexico would accomplish the same damage as one ICBM detonation at a 300 mile altitude. The containerized system would cost much less than it would to build and launch an ICBM. But the need to find suitable fissionable material for the warhead would still be difficult. It could be done, but it would take an arrangement between several lesser powers to accomplish the task on a terrorist level, and there are several nations that could finance their own attack through this method.
Because of the state of the world today, it is much easier than one would believe to transfer weapons of war between nations, and even easier when only private parties are involved. As I see the situation, only the lack of sufficient fissionable material prevents such an attack from already having occurred. Going back to my 3Ps of preparedness, we have to consider the fact that anything is possible, but given the facts as known today, an EMP attack is less likely than a low level attack. But even more likely is the scenario that creates a ‘dirty bomb’ event. These are much easier to obtain, and the costs to acquire the material is low.
Next time we’ll look at the dirty bomb and RDD devices and the potential threat the present to us.