Opinion

North Korean ‘Observation’ Satellite Could Deliver A Crippling EMP Strike

The Chief of Staff of the now-defunct “Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack” testified recently to the House Homeland Security subcommittee that there are North Korean satellites passing over the United States on a frequent basis that could wipe out our electrical grid for years to come.

North Korean KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites are described by the regime as meant for “earth observation”, but Dr. Peter Pry says they could easily carry a nuclear weapon and are orbiting at the level where an electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) event could be initiated. One of their satellites passes over the United States about every 45 minutes. If armed, Pry asserts that a threatened Kim Jong-Un could make a decision to detonate somewhere over the U.S. at any time.

Detonation of an EMP device in orbit would create a short but massive burst of electromagnetic energy that would disrupt an unprotected electrical grid and the electronics upon which the United States depends. Dr. Pry suggests that it would take years for the grid to be completely restored, if ever, and could result in the deaths of 90% of the population from starvation, loss of vital infrastructure, and societal chaos. An EMP would also render satellites inoperable, including the manned space station.

North Korean media mentioned the capability of using nuclear weapons to cause an EMP event for the first time in September 2017. Kim Songwon, dean of Pyongyang’s Kim Chaek University of Technology, stated: “In general, the strong electromagnetic pulse generated from nuclear bomb explosions…can severely impair electronic devices, electric machines, and electromagnetic grids, or destroy electric cables and safety devices… The discovery of the electromagnetic pulse as a source of high yield in the high-altitude nuclear explosion test process has given it recognition as an important strike method.”

The EMP commission was created in 2001 to address what was thought to be a “highly unlikely” event, a description that was also given to the possibility of the attack that occurred on 9/11. After years of repeatedly warning Congress about the risk to the United States of an EMP attack, Dr. Pry’s recent testimony may be the last we hear about the issue until it actually happens. Funding for the Commission was terminated September 20th, when neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Homeland Security requested its continuance. This happened the same month that North Korea detonated an H-bomb with the capacity to cause a major EMP event.

The reason for ending the commission is hard to fathom. Its yearly cost was only about $300,000, and most of the commissioners were working pro bono (that is, for free). With North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, and others well within the capability (and intent) to throw the U.S. into chaos, it seems a small price to pay for formulating strategies to fight a very real menace.

Dr. Pry estimates that it would take about two billion dollars to protect our vital infrastructure. This is the same amount of money that we give Pakistan yearly in foreign aid, where we don’t get much “bang for the buck”.  Two billion for the continued survival of our nation? Sounds like a deal to me.

With radical countries now targeting us with cyberattacks, we should realize that there would be little compunction on their part against the use of an EMP strike. North Korean threats to engulf the U.S. in flames from ICBMs are often in the news; the level of damage and deaths likely to occur, however, pales in comparison to what would happen if the nation was suddenly knocked off the grid.

Our military intelligence has, in the past, grossly underestimated North Korea’s ability to deliver nuclear weapons to U.S. territory. Although we now admit that the rogue regime can fulfill many of their threats, we still don’t acknowledge the risk from EMPs. Neither do we have a plan to counteract such an attack. North Korean KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites were launched on a “south polar” trajectory that evades the majority of U.S. detection systems, mostly located to identify north polar launches. Once perpetrated, it would take time to even identify North Korea as the culprit; worse, without our electronics, our ability to respond would be severely compromised.

It’s been reported that some academics scoff at the notion of an EMP attack by North Korea, despite the admission in 2004 by two Russian generals that the design for a “super-EMP” weapon was “accidentally” transferred to the rogue nation.

Dismissal of the possibility of an EMP strike, however, is just plain foolhardy. In the EMP Commission’s 10/12/2017 Statement for theRecord (its last unless re-established), mention is made of a visit by former NASA rocket scientist James Oberg to North Korea’s Sohae space launch base. There, he witnessed extreme measures taken to conceal satellite payloads and concludes that the EMP threat from North Korea’s satellites is a serious one. He states: “…there have been fears expressed that North Korea might use a satellite to carry a small nuclear warhead into orbit and then detonate it over the United States for an EMP strike.  These concerns seem extreme and require an astronomical scale of irrationality on the part of the regime.  The most frightening aspect, I’ve come to realize, is that exactly such a scale of insanity is now evident in the rest of their ‘space program.”

The EMP Commission’s final Statement for the Record makes a number of common sense recommendations, including that the President and Congress fund efforts to protect elements of the national electric grid from EMP attacks. They also recommend that Aegis naval-based missile interceptors be deployed off the Gulf of Mexico to guard weak points against submarine-based launches of nuclear weapons meant to cause EMP events. With regards to North Korean satellites, the commission recommends an attempt to determine whether anything in orbit over the United States is carrying nuclear weapons.

Of all the Doomsday scenarios short of a global nuclear holocaust, an EMP strike seems the most likely to cause a long-term “survival” event. An EMP may have been highly unlikely in 2001, but with Kim Jong-Un’s finger on the nuclear button in 2017, we’d be wise to continue figuring out strategies to protect our grid.


Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.