STRATCOM chief: EMP threat is “not a Cold War relic”

The threat of an electromagnetic pulse damaging the U.S. military is "not a Cold War relic," the Pentagon’s top nuclear officer said today during a congressional hearing, in response to a lawmaker’s question about the threat of an EMP attack. And you thought the topic died with Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. The Air Force in ...

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Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The threat of an electromagnetic pulse damaging the U.S. military is "not a Cold War relic," the Pentagon's top nuclear officer said today during a congressional hearing, in response to a lawmaker's question about the threat of an EMP attack.

And you thought the topic died with Newt Gingrich's presidential candidacy.

The Air Force in particular needs to harden its new crop of long-range bombers and drones that are sent against advanced defenses, according to Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, chief of United States Strategic Command. The new stealth bomber will be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and so its electronics need to be able to withstand the electromagnetic pulse emitted by a nuclear explosion. (The image above shows the Air Force's E-4B flying command post, commonly known as the doomsday plane, being tested to ensure it can survive an EMP.)

The threat of an electromagnetic pulse damaging the U.S. military is "not a Cold War relic," the Pentagon’s top nuclear officer said today during a congressional hearing, in response to a lawmaker’s question about the threat of an EMP attack.

And you thought the topic died with Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy.

The Air Force in particular needs to harden its new crop of long-range bombers and drones that are sent against advanced defenses, according to Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, chief of United States Strategic Command. The new stealth bomber will be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and so its electronics need to be able to withstand the electromagnetic pulse emitted by a nuclear explosion. (The image above shows the Air Force’s E-4B flying command post, commonly known as the doomsday plane, being tested to ensure it can survive an EMP.)

"It is something we need to prepare some of our systems to deal with in the operational environment," Kehler said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "Particularly in anti-access, area denial environments in the future, one of the ways that adversaries will try to take away U.S. advantages will be through the electromagnetic spectrum — whether that’s jamming, whether that’s some kind of electromagnetic interference, whether it’s through cyber, or whether that’s through an electromagnetic pulse."

It was unclear how concerned Kehler was about the threat of an EMP strike on the homeland — a scenario I rarely hear military officials discuss outside of war games that look at every plausible threat to the United States. But Kehler said, "We have a lot of work to do, I am not yet comfortable" with the amount of work being done to deal with the threat of an EMP attack. "I think we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to this."

Kehler told lawmakers that the U.S. military has recently stood up units dedicated to monitoring for and responding to any type of electromagnetic "issues" — whether an an EMP strike, electromagnetic interference, or a cyber attack.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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