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The U.S. Must Plan to Counterstrike a North Korean EMP Attack

If North Korea detonated a nuclear device 200 kilometers above the Earth in order to create an electromagnetic pulse, would the U.S. counterstrike North Korea with conventional and perhaps nuclear weapons?

The answer had better be "hell yes."

Everyone agrees: an EMP attack over or near U.S., Japanese, or South Korean territory is a physical attack that would wreak havoc with communications, the power grid, and civilian physical infrastructure.

This quip makes the point with bumper sticker clarity: "EMP kills EMS."

American emergency medical systems, or EMS, depend on mobile communications to route EMS ambulances to accident sites and citizens in physical distress. An EMP attack would knock out a seizure victim's cell phone, the county EMS communication center, and the communications on the EMS ambulance. It would likely fry all of the electronics on the vehicle. If the ambulance has an electronic microchip key and a fancy-superkeen electronic ignition button, it might not even start.

EMS also relies on GPS, or Global Positioning Satellite location system. An electromagnetic pulse would damage GPS receivers. An EMP's fritzing electrons in space could impede satellite to ground signals in the area for days, even though GPS satellites orbit 22,500 miles above the Earth.

An EMP attack could damage the SCADA systems monitoring and controlling critical infrastructure such as dams, factories, water and sanitation systems, oil refineries, and natural gas pipelines.

In short, an EMP attack destroys the electronic neurons and sinews of modern society.

North Korea could choose another option for EMP, though. PJ Media contributor Charlie Martin asked me to consider the following "gray area" scenario:

What if a North Korean EMP is intended as a "demonstration"? Suppose the nuke explodes over the North Pacific in an area that, say, the geography- and technology-ignorant cable news talking heads swear is open water, thousands of miles from U.S. and Japanese territory? And they claim that the only danger at that point is Trump's response?

The answer: a blast virtually anywhere in the atmosphere above the North Pacific would harm us.

Starfish Prime, the July 9, 1962, U.S. atmospheric nuclear test, showed that an EMP can have long-distance consequences. The U.S. detonated a 1.45 megaton device at an altitude of 400 kilometers near Johnston Island (about 1,500 kilometers from Honolulu). The blast's EMP damaged Honolulu street lights and shut down microwave phone links.

Yes, it was a much larger weapon than 200 kilotons, and it produced minimal ground damage. But the blast may have damaged several satellites in low-earth orbit.

Find Alaska's Aleutian Islands on a map, and note the location of the fishing port Dutch Harbor, which has a Coast Guard base. Also find Attu, way out west, about 1,900 kilometers from the Russian port of Petropavlovsk.