Notes on Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) in US, UK, NL

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Matthijs R. Koot


I decided to gather some information on Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) threats. These are my notes. Feel free to comment...

In 1990, the Engineering and Design - Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Tempest Protection for Facilities document was published. It focuses on USG facilities.

Between 2001 and 2010 (and still?), the U.S. had an EMP Commission (excellent resource).

In 2006, the Washington State Department of Health published a factsheet about EMP.

In 2008, the Congressional Research Service published a report on High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices: Threat Assessment" (.pdf) (recommended read).

In 2009, there was a discussion on a forum for pilots about a New Scientist article that argued that a commercial aircraft could be brought down by DIY EMP bombs. Also in 2009, the U.S. Patent Application for an Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) hardened information infrastructure was filed.

In 2010, Business Insider had an article "Gauging The Threat Of An Electro-Magnetic Pulse Attack In The US".

In 2011, some items appeared about Newt Gingrich's interest in EMP: this blogpost by Dick Destiny (some profanity there) and this post on

In February 2012, the U.K. Defence Committee published the report Developing Threats: Electro-Magnetic Pulses (EMP). It refers to statements made by the U.S. EMP Commission.

In April 2012, the U.K. report, or rather this Telegraph news article about it, led to Parliamentary questions (.pdf) in the Netherlands. In response to those questions, Dutch Secretary of Defense Hans Hillen stated that he sees the EMP threat as "low" for the Netherlands.

Here is my (unofficial) translation of the actual questions & answers:

  1. Are you aware of the article "Britain at risk from ‘GoldenEye’ electromagnetic pulse attack from space, MPs warn"?


  2. Do you still support your relativistic perspective on the threat of EMP that you expressing during the debate on the policy letter "Defence after the credit crisis: a smaller force in a troubled world" on June 6th 2011, in which you suggested that EMP is a remnant of the Cold War, that the EMP instrument is not practically applicable and that the threat can be considered to be low for the Netherlands?

    Yes, I consider this threat to be low. Also see the answers to questions 4 and 5.

  3. If so, how do you interpret the warning from the British Defence commission, which contradicts your vision, about the big risks for British national security? Are you aware that also the U.S. EMP commission and several leading U.S. politicians have warned of the great dangers of an EMP attack earlier?

    I have taken note of the report of the British Defence commission and the references therein to rulings of the U.S. EMP commission and U.S. politicians. The information that is available to me gives me no reason to change my position. Also see the answers to questions 4 and 5.

  4. How do you assess the specific comments of the President of the British Defence committee, James Arbuthnot, about the probability of an EMP attack considering that it is a convenient way to use a small number of nuclear weapons to create a large devastating effect?

    An electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear explosion can disrupt or destroy unprotected electronic systems by burning out electronic circuits. To create a nuclear EMP attack that has the greatest possible effect, an explosion of a nuclear weapon at several hundred kilometers height is necessary. This requires a launch vehicle that is only at the disposal of States. The Dutch intelligence services assess the likelihood of a nuclear EMP attack as low.

  5. Do you, like the British parliamentarians, see major risks in the possibility for terrorists to build a primitive non-nuclear EMP weapon that is devastating on a smaller scale? If not, why?

    It is possible to build small, improvised non-nuclear EMP-weapons using commercially available componnents. The area in which such a weapon can cause damage, however, is small. The impact of a terrorist attack using an improvised EMP-weapon is, therefore, comparable to that of an attack using a conventional explosive. The main objective of such terrorist attacks is to frighten the population, more than causing damage itself. Prevention is the appropriate protection against such attacks.

  6. What do you think of the criticism of the British Defence Committee that the British Ministry of Defence is unwilling to take these threats seriously? Do you see a similar situation in the Netherlands? If not, why?
  7. What do you think of the advice of the British Defence committee that the U.K. ought to immediately protect its critical infrastructure against EMP attacks?

    I abstain from commenting on the specific British situation. The Dutch intelligence services monitor the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In addition, the terrorist threat is monitored by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism (NCTV). The Parliament is a informed quarterly about developments about this in the Terrorist Threat Assessment Netherlands.

  8. Can you support with financial data your earlier claims that protection of critical infrastructure against EMP carries "enormous costs" with it? If not, why?

    Given the amount of electronic systems, their applications and the scope of potential measures, the costs of protection will be very high. Considering the answers to the previous questions, I foresee that establishing a detailed estimate will require a disproportionate effort.

  9. Are you willing to promote that an interdepartmental working group is formed to make inventory of the dangers of EMP for the Netherlands and advise about the possibilities to protect the Dutch critical infrastructure against the consequences of EMP? If not, why?

    I don't see the need for this.


Other informative resources:


Possibly Related Articles:
Defense Attacks Infrastructure National Security Information Security United Kingdom Netherlands United States Electromagnetic Pulse EMP
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Jayson Wylie This could be a potential Cyber Pearl Harbor.

I have done some research and don't like to think of the outcome if affected countries are not prepared.

Scary thing is that homemade ones can be a problem still. I want to post what the problem is but I don't want to give out bad ideas.
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