Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thinking About the Unthinkable

EMP blast

Update: I’ve made slight changes to this post at the request of Mr. Weyer, based on a more recent version of his report. The revision reflects an additional reference, House Bill HR 668.

I’ve written from time to time about the danger of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack on the electrical and electronic infrastructure of the United States. The most commonly described scenario involves a relatively low-tech and low-cost operation by Iran, in which a missile launcher concealed in the hold of a freighter is used to deploy and detonate a nuclear device high over the East Coast of the USA. But other scenarios are possible, including a devastating natural disaster of similar magnitude caused by a solar flare.

The following report has been sitting in my “to-do” folder since last spring, awaiting proof-reading and final formatting. It was written John Weyer, and previously submitted in a slightly different form to think tanks and other institutions. Many thanks to Mr. Weyer for collecting and collating all the crucial data on EMPs and EMDs.

Summary of Electromagnetic Disturbance (EMD) Risks

(October 2010 Version)

by John A. Weyer

My resources have been devoted to trying to help protect the U.S. against the risks of H-EMP/solar storms. Most leaders are in the 51st State of Denial.

To understand the risks, imagine the recent loss of electrical power in Japan and the crippling dangers of failed nuclear reactors’ cooling systems occurring all over the U.S.

The EMD Risks and Threats to Our Society

  • This memo is written to alert our society that we are presently at serious risk from EMD. The EMD risks are from both natural (another great or severe solar storm) and manmade (electromagnetic pulse; EMP) sources.
  • Essential protection for EMP can also protect against great or severe solar storms.
  • Almost the entire electronic and electrical foundations for our economic and societal infrastructures are fatally flawed in the face of EMD.
  • Up until now, our government and business sectors have not been reacting appropriately to these very serious threats. There is minimal advocacy on this issue, and some are constrained by security clearances.

The EMD Risks: Great or Severe Solar Storms

  • Sunspots can emit coronal mass ejections (CME) which in turn can create solar storms on Earth; they are totally unpredictable, provide little warning, and recurrences are inevitable.
  • The 1859 Great Solar Storm damaged/destroyed the nascent U.S. telegraph system devices. A 2008 NASA-NAS severe space weather study — cited below — estimates that damages from a very severe solar storm could include loss of the power grid from Ground Induced Currents (GICs) for a few years, causing societal havoc.
  • The severe solar storm of 1921 was not as strong as in 1859, but communications and electrical railroad equipment were damaged or destroyed where the storm was focused in New York.
  • At least one expert put the potential risk of recurrence of a severe solar storm as high as 1 in 100.
  • There have been several severe solar storms and many lesser solar storms since 1859, including 1989/2003.

The EMD Threats: Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) and High-altitude EMP (HEMP)

  • About 60 years ago we began — and about 45 years ago we accelerated — the replacement of vacuum tubes, which are highly robust to electromagnetic disturbances (one million times more robust), with solid state electronics, which are highly vulnerable to electromagnetic disturbance. The Soviets/Russians did not switch from vacuum tubes for military or critical infrastructures use.
  • Our remaining very experienced EMP experts are down to a handful. The Congressional FY 2009 Budget defunded the very important pro bono EMP Commission (EMP-C). It was authorized in 2001 and 2006 and it issued comprehensive, major reports in 2004 and 2008 (perhaps one-quarter is open source, but tells the story).
  • The EMP-C has done outstanding work to uncover and identify the EMD risks (EMP, HEMP, solar storms and other related risks) as well as provide initial roadmaps for the protection of our society’s many critical infrastructures from these risks. The power grid is the most critical infrastructure.
  • The commission hired retired senior Russian and former Soviet generals in 2003 to tell us about the Russian electromagnetic weapons and programs. We only confirmed/learned then (2003) that the Russians/Soviets had a super-High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) weapon that is four times stronger than our EMD defense standard for our strategic weapons/facilities. Some experts do not believe this, but the EMP-C believes this.
  • This super-EMP tuned nuclear weapon — as little as 10 kilotons (KT) is needed, smaller than the Hiroshima atom bomb — can potentially deliver 200,000 volts-per-meter (V/m; voltage between two metal plates one meter apart) to the ground below a mid-U.S. detonation and well over 50,000 V/m up to perhaps 100,000 V/m or more at the coastal margins of our nation. However, multiple detonations are possible to maintain higher voltages.
  • An upper Midwest detonation at 225 miles altitude reaches the entire U.S.; at 80 to 100 miles above the East Coast it would reach 70% of the U.S. power grid. Some experts believe a megaton nuclear weapon is needed to HEMP the entire U.S.; the highly distinguished EMP-C believes only a super-HEMP 10 KT weapon is needed.
  • This super weapon’s E1 phase electromagnetic pulse effects alone could severely damage or destroy our entire unprotected electronic and electrical infrastructures as presently constituted; its E2 & E3 effects are lessened.
  • HEMP E3’s full damaging effects are similar to a solar storm’s ground induced currents (GIC).
  • If attacked by this super-HEMP weapon, the EMP-C said the power grid could be out for a year or more, and over 80% of the U.S. population could expire from starvation and/or disease.
  • We can prevent this horrendous scenario with EMD protection for our critical infrastructure — especially the power grid. The cost is reasonable versus the horrific “costs” of not protecting.
  • If the 2004 EMP-C recommendations had been implemented, we would be well underway by now.

Our Enemies are Actively Preparing to Attack Us

  • The incentives for our enemies to anonymously attack us with a HEMP weapon are overwhelming. The Russians/Soviets and the Chinese have been proliferating HEMP component technologies to rogue states at least since the 1980s, creating many “return addresses” for a HEMP attack and removing their “fingerprints.”
  • In turn, rogue states are possibly proliferating these technologies to certain terror groups.
  • These growing threat sources compare to one threat “address” in the Cold War — the USSR.
  • Therefore, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has been effectively rendered obsolete by this asymmetric (a low-tech nation can effectively attack and destroy a high-tech nation) and anonymous (we may never know the attacker) super-HEMP weapon. There will no way to trace an atmospheric nuclear detonation to its source.
  • In 1999, an annoyed senior Russian Dumas member threatened our representatives with an anonymous HEMP attack upon our East Coast from a submarine to knock out 70% of the U.S. power grid.
  • Our enemies have said that they will attack/destroy us and have been preparing and practicing for a HEMP attack.
  • Iran launched missiles from a barge, a cargo ship hold, a submarine and detonated them at HEMP apogees.
  • North Korea has launched missiles to HEMP apogees and their small nuclear weapon tests can be enhanced to sufficient size and EMP output for a HEMP attack upon the U.S. They have submarines and cargo ships.
  • Also, there are non-nuclear, ground-based EMP-type weapons that can be used locally to attack parts of a city or critical facilities. This encompasses public and private sector critical facilities including key operations and communications centers, key financial centers, banks, and so on. The cost of these weapons is nominal.

Recent Actions to Date

  • From 2006 on I have studied/acted upon these risks on a pro bono basis from my own resources.
  • I have alerted DOD U.S. nuclear defense section to my concerns in May 2007 and they accepted them; DHS has not.
  • In 2008 and 2009 I worked with a top scientist and engineer on these risks. In February 2009 we alerted an overseer of the legacy power grid and our concerns were accepted. A workshop held in Nov. 2009 and a report issued on June 2, 2010 acknowledged EMD risks to power grid.
  • In February and May 2009 I alerted the head of the Smart Grid Roadmap and the Smart Grid May Workshop to these issues, and they were accepted as serious concerns.
  • The most critical infrastructure is the power grid, and I have sought to help begin the EMD protection process.
  • Initial funding — $100 million — to protect against cyber/HEMP/solar storms passed the House in 2009: “The Grid Act.”
  • Next in importance are the communications infrastructures. However, the many critical infrastructures identified by the EMP Commission (including life-sustaining and -maintaining water, food, fuel, healthcare, transportation, financial services and so on) are interrelated.
  • If we can sufficiently protect and then be able to quickly recover most of the power grid, we hope to save a few hundred million lives. A leading scientist and engineer estimates it would only cost a few hundred million dollars to protect the most critical at-risk large transformers in the U.S. This alone could help save most of the few hundred million lives at risk, through more rapid power grid recovery.
  • I am also examining EMD protection for government- and enterprise-critical facilities.
  • The potential loss of societal information from EMD could dwarf the losses at the Ancient Library of Alexandria and in the Dark Ages. Think of the state of our society without the stock and flow of digital information.
  • Because of general government inaction to date, we likely face at least a decade (assuming the government begins to act) during which we are at very high risk until necessary and sufficient EMD protection is put into place.
  • The private sector must begin the societal EMD protection process; EMP-C says it is on its own.

The Need for More EMD Expertise and an Institute

  • Among my serious concerns at this time is the paucity and decline of experienced U.S. EMD experts.
  • The private sector has to begin its own EMD protection process per the EMP Commission’s conclusion.
  • As the Rockefeller family created the Rockefeller Institute (RI) in 1901 (now Rockefeller University) to advance the nascent science of medicine, we need a RI-type entity to advance the science and strategy of EMD protection for our critical infrastructures and critical facilities as well as for our entire society.
  • We also need to devise cost-effective and sufficient EMD protection for solid-state electronics and/or find alternatives to the solid-state electronics used in our critical infrastructures and our critical government and critical enterprise facilities. For example, fiber optic cabling offers protection as part of an overall plan.
  • We are still in the early stages of devising commercial EMP standards and evaluating the newly discovered super-HEMP weapon, and determining the best methods to protect our infrastructures and our society. The validity of military EMP standards in light of the more powerful EMP weapon needs to be evaluated.
  • Presently, if EMD protection is incorporated during the design phase, it adds an estimated few percent to several percent to the total cost of electrical and electronic devices.
  • Retrofitting infrastructure for EMD protection is perhaps up to several times more expensive.
  • However, the high turnover of electronic equipment allows for cost-effective EMD protection over time.
  • After the Cold War ended, our military generally used non-EMP-protected commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment due to tight budgets. Therefore, our armed forces are at EMP risk.
  • If corporations, foundations and individuals fund an electromagnetic disturbance protection institute, it can capture our remaining electromagnetic pulse institutional memory.
  • It would also allow us to assemble the remaining EMD experts to document their expertise and experience, while training new experts and guiding university programs to expand expertise.
  • It will advance the science of EMD protection for our critical infrastructures and our society.
  • We can take the possibility of this horrendous event occurring off the table for a reasonable societal cost.

What Can We All Do to Help Protect America and Our Families From These Great Natural and Man-Made Electromagnetic Pulse Risks?

  • Contact your Congressman and Senators and ask them to study and consider passage of The Shield Act (HR 668), “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”. The effort has been non-partisan to date.
  • Contact the Speaker of the House and your congressman to request that the pro bono House Armed Services Committee EMP Commission be restored to full funding ASAP. This to be done on a rolling five-year basis to complete the preparations for and the monitoring of the protection of our government and critical national infrastructures against GIC and EMP until this critical task is completed. Designing a Civil Defense-type system to protect American lives was to be undertaken by the EMP Commission in FY 2009 before funding was denied.
  • Contact the President, your senators, DHS AND DOE to request that America enact the highest priority orders to protect our critical national infrastructures against GIC and EMP. This is to be done to protect over 240 million American lives against a Great Solar Storm or a HEMP attack.
  • Contact your governor and local representatives to request the public utilities commissions require the power generation and distribution companies (and other life-sustaining infrastructure) within the states be fully protected against natural great or severe solar storm’s Ground Induced Currents (GIC) and man-made electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Also, the state power systems must be “islanded” against the cascading effects of a massive Eastern Grid power failure from GIC or EMP and have sufficient “black start” restart power.
  • Also, while we are vulnerable, the President, governors and representatives must restore a Civil Defense-type infrastructure to store critical life sustaining supplies of food, water and medicine on a community by community basis. This includes protecting critical medical and other facilities and vehicles against GIC and EMP and enacting laws to allow the stockpiling and collection of essential food, water, medicines and other critical needs with the bounds of each community. This needs to done for life-sustaining rationing until the critical, life-sustaining infrastructures are restored to full use. First responders and state and local Civil Defense teams must be trained to handle an emergency arising from these risks and threats.
    Finally, rational family survival plans must be developed to accumulate life-sustaining supplies that will be needed to endure such horrendous events. Until a new Civil Defense-type infrastructure is sufficiently restored on a state/local basis, no help will likely come from any source.


The primary sources for the above information are:

1. The 2004 and 2008 EMP Commission reports and Dr. Graham’s open hearing verbal responses to questions at the July 10, 2008 HASC EMP Hearing — see video, for there is no transcript of the hearing.
2. National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Space Studies Board’s 2008 “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report”.
3. DOE/NERC Report, “High-Impact, Low-Frequency Event Risk to the North American Bulk Power System” [pdf], June 2, 2010.
4. HR 668, “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”.

©2010, 2011 John A. Weyer


Anonymous said...

My first thought is that any formal EMP education should be limited to natural born American citizens with high level security clearances. You know, the opposite situation of that of our current foreign-allegiant usurper-in-chief.

Otherwise, we will just be educating our foreign and foreign-allegiant enemies about how to better destroy us - in the same way that we have taught the whole world (except our own college students) about advanced math and science often funded through scholarships, grants, and stipends paid for by the American taxpayer.

If American students were offered the same financial aid as foreign students AND if related jobs were available in the Untied States instead of being shipped off shore, then American students would study advanced math and science in college and graduate school.

Anonymous said...

Whoops - I meant United States - although we are indeed fast becoming the Untied States. :)

Ralph Lynn said...

America, get this man to work on an EMD Protection Institute NOW.

Related: Wasn't there a report, earlier this year that Iran is building an ICBM system in Venezuela?

Professor L said...

Egghead - might I suggest that the decline of NASA also has something to do with this? China, Russia and India all have active manned space programmes. Now, America has none. They'll literally bleed their lead in space, and that could be truly fatal.

It's all about visions and dreams, and I don't think any president has had the gall to say "Let's make a dream come true".

Unless, of course, that dream involves some "social justice".

Zenster said...

Buckle up, folks. This will be a long ride.

● About 60 years ago we began — and about 45 years ago we accelerated — the replacement of vacuum tubes, which are highly robust to electromagnetic disturbances (one million times more robust), with solid state electronics, which are highly vulnerable to electromagnetic disturbance. The Soviets/Russians did not switch from vacuum tubes for military or critical infrastructures use.

There is some very important clarification needed here.

First and foremost, EMP most definitely is a concern for every nation with an advanced technology infrastructure. Even not-so-advanced infrastructure like hydroelectric power stations and other grid-related components are susceptible to this assault from afar.

Second, this article does not make clear the huge progress which America and other nations — especially those that are rather fluent in semiconductor technology— have managed to make in the past few decades.

I was personally involved with the electrical stress testing of silicon-based integrated circuit devices for their immunity to ESD (Electrostatic Discharge). This effort was ongoing decades ago right in phase with the occurrence of a very significant Cold War event.

Supposedly, what helped drive this development was the arrival of Viktor Belenko, a Soviet MiG-25 pilot who defected — with his state-of-the-art jet fighter — to Hakodate airport in Japan. Legend has it that an American CIA unit had the fighter plane shrouded, hidden from view by curtain walls and partially disassembled, even before Japanese national security agency operatives arrived on the airport tarmac.

Mind you, few people understand the risks that Belenko probably took. Back then — again, this is anecdotal — Soviet combat aircraft, supposedly, were not equipped with a radio transmission channel tuned to the (12 KHz), International Distress frequency such that Russian military aviators were unable to forewarn opposition forces of their impending arrival as a defecting pilot. This was purportedly aimed at discouraging potential Soviet air force defectors because they might otherwise be shot down as hostile intruders before having any opportunity to surrender or land at a foreign airbase.

From here, the traditional story takes some even more colorful turns. Again, supposedly, Belenko was the recipient of an openly promised and widely publicized reward totaling a reputed $50,000 or, even, $100,000 in gold bullion; payable upon the safe delivery, at an overseas location, of a functional MiG-25.

Of course, the American CIA operatives needed Belenko’s cooperation in order to master flight-worthy operation of their recently acquired MiG-25 aircraft. At first, so the tale goes, Belenko was skeptical about whatever new life awaited him in America, spy agency retirement promises notwithstanding. In order to persuade this new found “citizen”, Belenko was taken to numerous local retail outlets in an attempt to convince him that America was, indeed, the “land of plenty”.

This apocryphal segment supposedly ends with a hot-engine helicopter waiting on deck with rotors turning, Belenko being given a topographic map and asked to randomly plunk down a thumbtack, at which point he was flown to the place of his arbitrary specification and finally being convinced that the plentiful stores he was being shown were not “Potemkin Villages” and, indeed, just ordinary American retail outlets of a well-stocked sort.

This is what, evidently, persuaded Belenkov to hand off stick-level training to another Western fighter jet pilot.

All of that aside, what was found inside the plane’s electronic innards, literally, astounded Western military experts. “Crazy as a foxbat” barely begins to cover it.

[Part II to follow]

PS: Meanwhile, here is a (dated but accurate), 2001 review of EMP technology.

dienw said...

@ Zenster:
More Please!

ahservant said...

In response to Zenster.
Look forward to more posts.
We have made progress in developing IEEE and IEC standards for EMP protection but we have along way to go to deal with a 200,000 volt-per-meter E1 effect weapon. Our Cold War top standard for protection of strategic military assets was only 50,000 volts-per-meter and we have not upgraded our military protection and in fact use COTS where possible to save money given tight budgets. My focus is on the private sector but this is my sense of the military situation.
We also have had transformers damaged or destroyed from the GICs during fairly recent past solar storms. We have replaced mechanical switches with electronic switches in most of the power grid. Transformers, SCADA controls and power line transistors are vulnerable to the
E3 effect GICs from solar storms.

Anonymous said...

Hi LAW Wells:

But Obama declared the goal of NASA to be Muslim outreach. What could possibly go wrong?! :)

Zenster said...

Note: I have sought to verify the information contained herein wherever possible but much of it is tribal lore from Silicon Valley’s heyday and cannot be substantiated from internet sources. Please feel free to salt to taste. As always, any corrections or clarifications are welcome. To continue:

While Western intelligence operatives disassembled their priceless MiG-25, they were relatively unimpressed by the overall caliber of its electronics. In fact, its digital processing was mediocre, at best. Reverse engineering found that the main microprocessor was a direct copy of a Motorola CPU except that the chip’s line width geometry was several times larger.

In effect, Soviet device engineers had “magnified” the integrated circuit’s size so that they could overcome typical sensitivity to fabrication process defects like wafer-level particulate contamination or lithography-related photomask occlusions while sacrificing enormous amounts of power efficiency and overall speed. To put this in perspective, if you scale up a Pentium processor to the size of Manhattan, one pothole stops all traffic. Keep that word “Manhattan” in mind for later (as in; “Manhattan Project”).

Now, imagine if you widen all of Manhattan’s streets to twenty plus lanes. Suddenly, a pothole no longer has such devastating effects. However, your usable real estate has shrunken dramatically and the roadbed maintenance costs have skyrocketed. With integrated circuit design it is a general rule of thumb that as device (e.g., transistor or gate) size shrinks, power consumption diminishes and speed of operation (i.e., cycle time) increases. By widening the processor chip’s line width geometry and commensurately expanding transistor size, Soviet chip performance was thoroughly compromised due to power consumption and increased processor cycle time.

Sure, they were actually able to fabricate a “working” microprocessor chip using their sub-par solid state device processing technology but the price tag was loss of overall performance and having the on board avionics computer become a power hog. Given that the Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich (MiG) design bureau routinely over-engineered their planes, such power consumption was not a major issue but the processing speed was.

However, here is where their scoffing ended rather abruptly.

[Part III to follow]

Zenster said...

Bearing all of this in mind, we now return to post-World War II America and the wind-down of its immensely successful Manhattan Project.

EMP effects were first noticed during work subsequent to America’s World War II Manhattan Project. After parking near several early A-Tests, geek scientists with newfangled homebrew electronic automotive distributors discovered that their solid state ignition components were — as those of us in Silicon Valley prefer to call it — “nonfunctional rock”.

The reason for this is due to how integrated circuits have dimensions on the order of microns. A “micron” is one millionth of a meter. For some perspective, a human hair is around ten microns in diameter. Decades ago, integrated circuits passed into the sub-micron chip geometry level and are now headed towards the 22 nanometer (22 nm) node; as in 22 billionths of a meter. We have now entered the realm of on-chip conductor line widths that are almost one thousand times finer than a human hair.

Down at these infinitesimal dimensions, electrical conductivity becomes a serious problem. Of late, the chip industry’s favorite insulating material, silicon dioxide (a glass-like insulating layer more commonly referred to simply as “oxide”) must be so thin that gate insulating structures made with it no longer have the dielectric strength (i.e., electrical insulation resistivity), required to isolate the same “anode” and “cathode” structures which vacuum devices like diodes, triodes and rectifiers managed to achieve through physical spacing of internal components in the partially evacuated atmosphere of a reduced pressure glass envelope (i.e., tube).

In fact, these film layers are so thin that they must be deposited using ALD, a technology known as Atomic Layer Deposition, which is capable of putting in place coatings that are a single atom thick. I was trained on such equipment over a decade ago and these new gate insulating films are composed of such exotic materials as oxides of hafnium and zirconium.

This is where the ultimate issue resides. None of these solid state advances are totally able to overcome the immense vulnerability caused by such delicate small-scale electronic properties. As an example, current single die memory chips total nearly one gigabyte in capacity. To put this in much-needed perspective, I helped Intel Corporation qualify its much vaunted 256K CMOS DRAM memory chip for market release. All of this happened in recent time frame of 1985.

Yes, there were larger capacity DRAM chips on the market at that time but they were PMOS or NMOS (circuit structure) design variants that, by comparison, sucked down power like a direct short circuit.

Here we are, some three decades later, with these ultra-thin circuit layers and they can be shorted out by shuffling your feet on some cheap wall-to-wall carpeting. What is being done about this and, if not, why not?

(Part V to follow)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Zenster. I'm still interested. :)