Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and cyber attacks can both have devastating effects on power grids, critical infrastructure, and computer systems. While both can cause interruptions due to human error, intentional cyber attacks, physical damage from secondary hazards, and EMPs, the latter is more powerful and can be caused by nuclear or non-nuclear weapons. Russia and China have the capacity to generate energy and degrade military capabilities with a non-kinetic first attack, not only through the electromagnetic effects of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons, but also through means such as cyber attacks. Additionally, a natural event such as a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun could also cause destruction.
An EMP is an intense burst of electromagnetic radiation that is generated by a nuclear explosion or other high-energy event. It can cause power spikes ranging from several hundred volts per meter to more than 1 million volts per meter. This can lead to wear or degradation of a component or subsystem and a system disorder. A CME is an explosive outburst of plasma from the solar wind from the Sun that contains powerful radiation and magnetic fields.
Despite the potential for destruction, very little progress has been made in terms of preparation for EMPs. This means that if the network were attacked tomorrow, it could result in a prolonged blackout that would paralyze 99 percent of the military due to its dependence on the civilian power grid and food and water infrastructure. Gunnery Sergeant Owen recently published a report in which he concluded that North Korea is now in possession of EMP weapons so strong that no power grid could survive such an attack. The big challenge is that many of the electrical systems in the United States were not designed or built with the idea of being protected against cyber threats or EMP attacks.
The report concluded that, one year after a large-scale EMP or CME, nine out of ten Americans would die from various causes derived from the attack. In order to protect against these threats, leaders must take them seriously and start acting now. The Navy and Marine Corps should introduce existing technologies for electromagnetic hardening of infrastructure and equipment systems, bases and military vehicles as soon as possible. Senior commanders can submit a Universal Declaration of Needs (UNS) to their chains of command, while small unit commanders can begin to study how to command and control in an electronically degraded environment.
Strengthening efforts can begin to be carried out in phases, depending on the year's budgets. This will help ensure that if an EMP attack were to occur tomorrow, leaders would be able to command and control their marines, sailors, contractors, and their families would be fed.