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Putin vs. Ukraine: New Weapons Target Your Electronics, Not You

Putin’s recent warning about “consequences that you have never experienced” could refer to EMPs that target the computer-based systems that keep us all alive today

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military to strike Ukraine. He also made a public statement that included a dangerous warning:

Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history. We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made.

David Brennan , Tom O’Connor and Naveed Jamali, “NATO States May Give Sanctuary to Fleeing Ukraine Forces as Russia Advances” at Newsweek (February 25, 2022)

This warning has been widely viewed as a threat to employ nuclear weapons in response to interference with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But what kind of nukes did Putin have in mind? Tactical nukes could destroy European cities. ICBMs launched against the US would kill millions, and the US would retaliate in kind.

While these nukes are highly destructive bombs that leave behind dangerous levels of radioactivity, Russia, China, North Korea, and the US have developed nukes that are not designed to cause physical damage. Instead, these bombs are designed to be detonated high in the sky, where they generate a powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can disable power plants and electronic devices across many hundreds of miles.

The US military has studied the effects of EMP for many years. When I was working on top secret laser projects at the Air Force Weapons Lab from 1970 to 1972, the lab next door was heavily involved in research on how to better understand and prevent EMP damage to Air Force aircraft. They took their work very seriously, especially when they tested the EMP vulnerability of combat aircraft.

Because the world situation has become much more dangerous in recent years, especially following the disastrous departure from Afghanistan, I’ve become more interested in what might occur in the US if we were to be struck by one or more EMP nukes.

I was especially concerned about Seguin, Texas, the nearby city from which we purchase electricity and water. I sent an open records request to the city, asking for their contingency plans should there be a major and potentially long-lasting disruption in electrical power caused by an EMP from an enemy attack or solar event:

  1. Plans to provide water and sewage disposal.
  2. Plans to provide law enforcement, fire protection, hospital services, and other emergency services.
  3. Plans to assure the equitable availability of food to area citizens.

The city’s response was a blank page. So, I wrote City Attorney Andy Quittner. He explained that there were no records in response to any of my requests. He also wrote that the city has a few back-up generators. I replied that generators must be shielded from EMP or they may be damaged.

I suspect many other cities across the country also lack contingency plans for an EMP attack. In view of Putin’s threats and those by other Russian officials, all cities should immediately begin protecting essential infrastructure that could be disabled or destroyed by an EMP high over the US.

The Department of Homeland Security and various other Federal departments have issued detailed guidelines for how cities, companies and individuals can take steps to minimize EMP damage to their computers, traffic signals, emergency vehicles, and so forth.

Seguin, by way of example, has done nothing in this regard. Should the city be impacted by a high-altitude EMP blast or a relatively close ground one, residents might soon find themselves without water, sewage, electricity, fuel, and groceries. One government prediction is that 90% of the US population would be dead one year after a major EMP event.

EMP preparation has become far more important than anything else on the agendas of US cities. Unprepared cities should quickly appoint an EMP committee to carefully review options and make recommendations for how to best protect their residents should an EMP attack occur. At minimum, residential water supply must be protected by EMP-shielded generators. Emergency vehicles must be protected by means of high-speed surge protectors across their batteries and electronics. In view of Putin’s threat, the possibility of an EMP attack must be taken very seriously.

You may also wish to read:

EMPs from the sun can wipe computers — and streetlights. Electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) can do that as accidents of nature. But they can also be weaponized. Russia and China both have the technology to detonate at EMP from space. One reason for nuclear test ban treaties is to prevent destructive electromagnetic impulses from tests from wrecking havoc with global grids.

Forrest M. Mims

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Forrest M. Mims III is an instrument designer, science writer and independent science consultant. He has made regular observations of the ozone layer, solar ultraviolet radiation, photosynthetic radiation, column water vapor and aerosol optical thickness since 1989 at his Geronimo Creek Observatory in Texas. He cofounded MITS Inc., the company that introduced the first personal computer, and Science Probe magazine, which he edited.

Putin vs. Ukraine: New Weapons Target Your Electronics, Not You