EMP Attack Concern Drives Pentagon to Reopen Cheyenne Mountain

The Pentagon has decided to reopen the Cheyenne Mountain Air Defense facility, which housed the heart of America’s air and missile defense of North America. The facility had been mothballed in a “cost-saving” move in 2006.

Last week, Admiral William Gortney, head of US NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and US Northern Command, reversed that decision and announced the Pentagon was spending an opening ante of $700 million to oversee reactivation of the Cheyenne mountain-embedded facility. The reason – the Pentagon’s fears of a nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack by a missile that would burn out America’s overly-dependent defense, which is based on modern electronics.

The article doesn’t say what has changed since 2006. After all, the danger of EMP has been recognized within the military for decades. I see four possibilities. One is the increased likelihood of attack by North Korea, Iran, and other unstable third world powers. Another is the proliferation of super-EMP weapon technology to North Korea and possibly to other such powers. Another is the growing susceptibility of modern military electronics to EMP. Another is a realization by the military of its dependence on the civilian infrastructure.

Ensuring the ability of the US to retaliate is important in forestalling attacks by rational leaders of such countries as China and Russia. It is less effective in deterring aggression by unstable dictators, unidentifiable terrorists, and Arabs with a death wish.

Second Nuclear Age

Paul Bracken just published The Second Nuclear Agewhich examines the implications of nuclear proliferation. He criticizes American strategic thinkers for downplaying the importance of nuclear weapons in world politics, and for letting America’s nuclear stockpile become antiquated.

Although Bracken adds useful perspectives to the conversation about world politics, he fails to address the threat of EMP weapons. This surprises me, because the damage a single nuclear weapon can do through an electromagnetic pulse vastly exceeds any blast damage it might cause. He does mention that some weapons can affect communications and the electric grid, but he seems to regard these as short term problems and does not appreciate the grim and profound implications. For example, it does not make a big difference whether an enemy has one or one hundred nuclear warheads; he can destroy a large country with just a single warhead used to generate an HEMP.

The only good thing about EMP weapons is that all nations are vulnerable. This is good because it serves as an incentive to work together to find solutions. Israel and China may develop hardening technical fixes or antimissile defenses that can be used by everyone. Instead of the US saving Israel, Israel may save the US, if we can all just survive the next few years.