To refresh, EMP is a short duration, electromagnetic energy burst across a fairly wide spectrum of the electromagnetic (EM) field. It has the effect of damaging and destroying electronic devices. EMP can occur naturally, as in lightning strikes, or from man-made weapons. The best known source of EMP is a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere high above the target. Today, smaller, non-nuclear weapons can generate EMP thereby allowing tactical use of EMP without the devastating and long lasting effects of nuclear weapons and radiation. This also makes EMP weapon use politically acceptable as opposed to nuclear weapons.
The US has acknowledged the existence of a missile-mounted EMP device known as CHAMP (Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project) which was developed by Boeing and the US Air Force. CHAMP appears capable of delivering multiple microwave EMP bursts during a single flight and can target specific frequencies. (1) A publicly acknowledged test occurred in 2012 in which various types of electronic devices inside a building were disabled by an EMP missile flying by.
|CHAMP EMP Concept Missile|
There are numerous reports of Chinese, Russian, and NKorean EMP weapons although details are, understandably, sparse.
A good discussion of the scope of the EMP threat is available in an Oct 2017 statement for the record to Congress from Dr. William Graham, chairman of the Congressionally established Commission To Assess The Threat To The United States From Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. (2) Dr. Graham’s statement was focused on NKorean EMP threats but it is not hard to extrapolate the threat to Russia and China who have more resources and, presumably, more advanced EMP programs. A report to the Commission further details the potential EMP threats. (3)
Presumably, we have continued to develop our EMP weapons – I hope so, at any rate. Lacking any further information in the public domain, there is nothing more to be said about offensive EMP weapons.
Defensively, as noted, we used to build ships with component EMP hardening. We need to return to that design requirement. Herein we see yet another negative impact of the LCS program. Prior to the LCS, the Navy operated for years with a clear, simple survivability design requirement. OPNAVINST 9070.1 defined survivability for ships and Level 1, the lowest level, mandated EMP hardening among other requirements. When the LCS was shown to have been designed without adhering to any formal survivability requirement the Navy spent years defending it with outright lies about some mythical Level 1+ survivability. After this was proven false (see, “Rationalize Survivability”), the Navy finally opted to issue a rewritten survivability document which eliminated all specific survivability requirements in favor of a nebulous, feel-good, non-specific description of generic survivability. Thus ended the requirement for EMP hardening. Thanks LCS. To be fair, the Navy had probably abandoned EMP hardening prior to the LCS but I can’t pin down exactly when that occurred.
Back to task …
Unless we want to risk the specter of a ship or fleet lying dead in the water, immobilized and neutered by an EMP burst, we need to start – well, return – to designing ships for combat and designing to a mandated survivability rather than some feel-good policy intended to allow the Navy to save face. We once knew how to build warships and we’d better remember how, quickly. The new frigate would be a good place to start. Let’s demand that it be built as a warship, not some glorified LCS (which is exactly and literally what it will be, I’m afraid).