High-Tech 'Cyber Nukes' Threaten Aging Nuclear Deterrents

U.S. nuclear deterrent modernization should not put "old wine in new bottles" by merely upgrading missiles and bombers to deliver old-fashioned nuclear weapons on antiquated missions.

New-design nuclear weapons — and new operational plans — are needed for deterring and defeating the new way of warfare being planned by our potential enemies.

Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran plan a revolution in military affairs combining cyber-attacks with nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to decisively defeat enemy military forces and paralyze entire nations.

They envision using low-yield nuclear weapons, specially designed to generate EMP, what Russia calls Super-EMP weapons. EMP attack detonates a warhead in outer space. So no blast, radiation, or other nuclear effects reach the ground, only the EMP.

Nuclear EMP attack is variously described by Russian, Chinese, and others as "Electronic Warfare," "Information Warfare," or "Cyber Warfare" — but not nuclear warfare.

An article in the Russian General Staff’s journal Military Thought, "Weak Points of the U.S. Concept of Network-Centric Warfare" recommends nuclear EMP attack to defeat the U.S. by "electronic warfare," "American forces may be vulnerable to electronic warfare attacks, in particular, an electromagnetic pulse that is a brief powerful electromagnetic field capable of overloading or destroying numerous electronic systems . . . A single low-yield nuclear weapon exploded for this purpose high above the area of combat operations can generate an electromagnetic pulse covering a large area and destroying electronic equipment without loss of life that is caused by the blast or radiation."

Moreover, the article adds, "Today, too, a considerable body of administrative information in the U.S. armed forces goes through the civilian Internet. Many commercial communication satellites, particularly satellites in low orbits, can have their functions impaired or they can be disabled by electromagnetic shocks from high altitudes."

China's military doctrine sounds an identical theme. According to the People's Liberation Army textbook, World War, the Third World War — Total Information Warfare, a nuclear EMP attack is part of "information warfare," "With their massive destructiveness, long-range nuclear weapons have combined with highly sophisticated information technology and information warfare under nuclear deterrence . . . As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt.

"Therefore, China should focus on measures to counter computer viruses, nuclear electromagnetic pulse . . . and quickly achieve breakthroughs in those technologies in order to equip China without delay with equivalent deterrence that will enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States."

A May 1, 2014 article, "Overview of Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons and Protection Techniques Against Them" from China’s Air Force Engineering University declares, "Information superiority has already become central and crucial to achieving victory in warfare . . . If the communications equipment used for the transmission of battlefield information were attacked and damaged by an opponent’s EMP weapons, then the one attacked would face the danger of disruption in battlefield information transmission. EMP severely restricts the tactical performance and battlefield survivability of informatized equipment."

Moreover, the article clearly distinguishes between nuclear weapons and nuclear EMP weapons, describing the latter as "a new type of weapon" like non-nuclear EMP weapons — "As opposed to conventional and nuclear weapons, EMP weapons are a new type of weapon capable of causing mass destruction by instantly releasing high-intensity EMP. . . The unique destructive effect that EMP have on electronic equipment was unintentionally discovered by the United States in the 1960s during a nuclear test. . . On a battlefield, this new-type weapon will cause devastating damage to electronic systems, including computers, communications and control systems, and radars, resulting in immeasurable losses."

A January 2016 article "General Trend of the Worldwide Revolution in Military Affairs" from China’s National Security Policy Committee sees "electromagnetic pulse bombs" among new "disruptive technologies" that "can change the 'rules of the game'" by disrupting U.S. "precision warfare capabilities centered on information technology" thereby sounding "the horn of a new round of revolution in military affairs."

An Iranian military textbook declares, "As a result of not having the other destructive effects that nuclear weapons possess . . . weapons derived from electromagnetic pulses have attracted attention with regard to their use in future wars."

Kim Jong-un threatens to reduce the United States to “ashes" with "nuclear thunderbolts" and to retaliate for U.S. military actions by "ordering officials and scientists to complete preparations for a satellite launch as soon as possible." North Korean press (Rodong Sinmun, March 7, 2016) asserts readiness for "any form of war" and includes their satellite with "strengthening of the nuclear deterrent and legitimate artificial satellite launch, which are our fair and square self-defensive choice."

Moreover, "The nuclear [weapons] we possess are, precisely, the country’s sovereignty, right to live, and dignity. Our satellite that cleaves through space is the proud sign that unfolds the future of the most powerful state in the world." North Korea makes "constant preparations so that we can fire the nuclear warheads, which have been deployed for actual warfare for the sake of national defense, at any moment!"

EMP satellites and "cyber-nukes" are an unprecedented challenge to the aged U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars." For more of his reports,


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