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We’re Still Worrying About EMPs

by John Reed on February 29, 2012

EMPs!!! You know, the big electronics-frying pulses that accompany nuclear blasts. We’re back to worrying about them again. In particular how does the military protect its electrical infrastructure from an EMP attack.

“Yeah, we have issues there [with the EMP threat] and we have to look at those and we seriously have to understand that in the Army in particular, because we have an awful lot of bases that we look at,” said Marilyn Freeman assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology during a House Armed Services emerging threats subcomittee hearing today. “I work very closely and the folks in my office and accross the laboratory system of the Army work very close with the installations folks as we assess what our vulnerabilities are to power and energy issues and one of the things we’re trying to do is actually set up the ability for our various bases to be more energy self sufficient, more energy secure and to have the ability, not only to be more efficient and effective, but also to be safe and not vulnerable” to attacks from EMPs that would shut down a bases power systems.

If you think it’s easy to harden a base connected to the civilian power grid from an EMP blast, think again, one of Freeman’s fellow Pentagon science officials said in when a lawmaker asked how soon the nation can protect its bases and power infrastructure from EMP attack.

“I don’t think any of us are prepared today to give you a calendar date as to when that’s going to occur,” said Zachary Lemnios, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. “I will simply tell you that I’ve looked at risk assessments, not only in that domain but others, there are very few silver bullets that allow you to take the risk from a very high level to a low level.”

Instead, the Pentagon must look at how each installation and the overall grid will be attacked and how to defend against these attacks.

On a side note, the Air Force a few years ago, in a move that seemed to almost be catering to the nuclear power industry, was interested in installing “small package” nuclear power plants on its bases as a way of moving the installations off the antiquated national energy grid. Service officials said this would help protect the bases from attacks or disasters that could take down the energy grids. Needless to say, that plan died quietly along with the service’s plan to use coal-derived synthetic fuel to power its aircraft and ground vehicles.

What’s that E-4B flying command post have to do with EMPs you ask? The picture shows one of the jets sitting beneath a device that simulates an EMP during a test designed to make sure the jet’s electronics can survive a massive such an event.

 

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