ARTICLES / FEATURES
The Threat of Electronic Warfare 2007
From: The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International (Vol. 13, 3 Fall 2007)
As Americans we are dependent on technology more than any other period in our nation's history. Currently there are an estimated 195 million computers in the United States. In 2006 cell phone shipments topped 1 billion. Almost all of our appliances contain electronics as well as our vehicles that take us back and forth from work. The consumer electronics industry revenues reached an estimated $135.4 Billion in 2006. The modern military is heavily dependent on electronics. Smart bombs, net-centric warfare, fly by wire as well as our entire C4I depends on electronics. In fact, our national security relies on electronics.
The U.S. has developed and implemented infrastructure that is more dependent on electronics, advanced telecommunications, energy supply systems, information/computer networks and transportation systems more than other foreign nations. This asymmetry concept in U.S. infrastructure is a major source of substantial economic, industrial, and societal advantages over other nations, but it creates vulnerabilities and critical interdependencies that are potentially disastrous to the United States. It is the Achilles heel in which a good attack can disrupt everything that is connected in a massive scale. If an individual or group can cripple power sources in an area, it causes a chain reaction that can cripple the health care industry, communications, transportation systems and much more. Ultimately, Electronic Warfare offers one of the best attack strategies for its maximizing damage with little investment.
Many people recognize an old term - electromagnetic pulse or EMP. The ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP) effect was first observed during the early testing of high altitude airburst nuclear weapons. So now we all associate an electromagnetic pulse with a nuclear detonation. That was the case in the past but not today. A destructive EMP can now be produced without the use of a nuclear device. With an electromagnetic weapon, the result electronic pulse has enough energy that any sensitive electronic equipment, in particular semiconductor based devices-computer chips are likely to severely damaged within a business organization. The development of Transient Electromagnetic Devices (TEDs) now makes the threat of an EMP attack much more likely. This development creates a unique threat to the electronic society of the 21st century.
While the Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. focused on military build ups of conventional military forces and the threat of deterrence, the U.S. in particular did not take steps to protect civilian infrastructure and business against any type of EMP impact that would emerge following a soviet nuclear strike. The U.S. focused instead on principles of deterrence for its safety and allowed U.S. businesses to take their own steps to protect themselves. Today the actors who may be considering using EMP weapons to disrupt business operations are likely to be terrorist groups in which deterrence principles are not likely to prevent an attack in the future.
Today there are multiple EMP weapon configurations that do not require a nuclear explosion. The oldest configuration for a non-nuclear EMP generator is called Magnetic Flux Compression Generator (Magnetocumulative Generator, MCG). This style of device was invented by A. Sakharov in Russia and later by C.M. Fowler in the United States. While this configuration is the oldest it still remains less mature than more recent developments.
The second type of flux generator is the Magneto-Hydrodynamic generator. This is far less mature than the two previously mentioned. However, one clear advantage of MHD generators over is that they require fewer components.
An explosively pumped flux compression generator (EPFCG) is a pulsed power supply that magnetically derives its energy from an explosion. EPFCGs are the most popular as power sources for transient electromagnetic devices (TEDs) because of this simplicity. Theses devices are relatively simple weapons and built of readily available components that cost between $600 and $1,000.
When used in a TEDs device, the output pulse of any of these configurations is directed to a wave shaper or guide and then to an antenna. A frequency converter which turns the lower frequencies into microwave range can be placed between the electromagnetic pulse generator and the antenna that increases the destructive nature of this weapon.
It is not known for certain, though it is suspected, that at very short range the pulse may severely injure or even kill humans due to microwave heating effects in the body. As the basic technology and design continue to advance, the ability to disrupt communications, computing platforms and destroy electronic components.
Construction: The most common construction of this type of device includes a coaxial design that is contained in a metal tube, typically aluminum with a copper wire helix and an explosive at one end and a transformer at the other. The cylindrical core of high explosive is surrounded by a conductive or super-conductive armature, an air gap, then a conductive winding and possibly an electromagnetic pulse/wave guide.
Operations: The movement of the armature through the high intensity magnetic field set up by the moderate start current initiates an electromagnetic brake, resisting the explosion and transforming the explosive energy into electrical energy (pulse) in the outer winding and is then discharged. The larger the armature of the device, the larger the electromagnetic field produced.
Output: The output is a rapidly ramping current pulse that reaches its peaks before the destruction of the device. The output pulse is converted directly into an electromagnetic pulse which can damage electronics. Non-published results suggest ramp times in the hundreds nano-seconds with times directly proportionate to the maximum current and power of the device.
Application: The purpose of the pulse is to induce a voltage that heats up the semiconductor material so quickly thereby electrically destroying it. These devices could be used to drive high energy pulsed weapon of mass disruption. Use of an intense electromagnetic pulse against corporate and government data centers, network and telecommunications switching centers, air traffic control centers, SCADA systems controlling the power grid, 911 call centers and virtually any location containing electronic systems.
Impact: A device four or five feet across could be used to take out all communications at an airport or from a skyscraper take out the semiconductor devices for several miles in a swath extending out in all unshielded directions. Given the reliance of our economy, and security on electronics, the simplistic design of these devices coupled with the fact that all components other than the high explosives are readily available make a TEDs weapon creates an elevated level of risk. With the current state of these devices and the likelihood of rapid advancement over the next few years, data center designs, and electronics packaging should take protective action now.
Protection: Detecting such a weapon present another set of problems. The more effective alternative for business organizations is to harden the operation/data center systems of a business organization. The construction of Faraday cages around critical electronic equipment is the only protective treatments known at this time. The use of copper mesh or 1-inch chicken wire provides protection for large areas like data centers and buildings. Now is the time to build Faraday cages or blankets. If we wait until they are actually needed, it will be far too late. The key to survival becomes in business continuity terms, resilience and redundancy, spread over a large area.
Intel: It is reported that the FEMA headquarters buildings are constructed with copper mesh that extends out from the base and is secured by grounding rods. It is also reported that the Presidential limousine is also protected against these type of attacks by nano-shielding.
Short-term Capabilities (3 to 5 years):
Analysis: Concerns are rising about the use of electromagnetic pulse weapons aimed at destroying our electronic based infrastructure. Electromagnetic pulse weapons including High Energy Microwave devices are more practical than science fiction. Evidence exists that terrorist groups as well as a few nation states are very interested in EMP weapons. We can expect rapid advancement of these weapons in the next few years and need to proactively protect sensitive infrastructure and critical systems from these type of attacks. While the United State and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are the only two nations thought to have these weapons at this time, the design simplicity of these devices would lead one to conclude that any nation with a 1940s technology base could quickly develop e-Bomb capabilities.
Most Likely Scenario: The U.S. infrastructure is a major source of substantial economic, industrial, and societal advantages over other nations, but it creates vulnerabilities and critical interdependencies that are potentially disastrous to the United States. It is the Achilles heel in which a well planned and executed attack can disrupt everything that is connected in a massive scale. The most probable scenario is a rogue state or extremist or terrorist group interested in demonstrating its ability to take on a super-power may use a non-nuclear generated electromagnetic pulse to destroy critical infrastructure in a major city. A hostile foreign competition could resort in targeting the data center of a rival with a small portable device as a mechanism to gain competitive advantage.
Potential Targets: The Power Grid, Wall Street or any economic/trading center, Air Traffic Control Centers, 911 Centers, Telecommunications Network Switching Centers, Financial Clearing Houses like SWIFT or even the main traffic control systems of a major city.
If an EMP blast was initiated near a corporate data center, the effects could range from reduced power to catastrophic failure based on the location of the EMP detonation the corporate design of a business organization.
Related Issues: The intentional electromagnetic interference (EMI) weapons, not to be confused with an electromagnetic pulse, has emerged as an increasing threat in the electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) arsenal.
Forecast: Given the numerous government, infrastructure and corporate targets, the open access to electrical components, the simplicity of design, the ease of assembly and the significant economic damage and disruption a small to medium size TEDs discharge would create, it is not unreasonable to expect extremist groups and or terrorist to acquire and use such a weapon in the next 18 to 24 months.
Conclusion: The threat to American businesses is not going to decrease as terrorists research the potential of such devices and as organized criminal organizations come up with ways to profit from EMP devices. Reports from Russia suggest that these devices have been used to disable bank security systems and to disrupt police communications. Another report suggests a London bank may also have been attacked. While these incidents are hard to prove, they are currently realistic and foreseeable. The threat of an EMP attack is real and increasing. Technology has matured to the point where practical electromagnetic pulse weapons are becoming technically and economically feasible. The ability to generate a sizeable electromagnetic pulse without the use of a nuclear bomb even further increases the threat. Current war policies do not address non-nuclear generated electromagnetic pulse weapons.
Federation of American Scientists, Intelligence Resource Program, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Intelligence Threat Assessments [PDF]
"The E-Bomb - A Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction." Carlo Kopp, Department of Computer Science Monash University, Clayton, 3168, Australia.
"US Joint Economic Committee Hearing Radio Frequency Weapons and Proliferation: Potential Impact on the Economy." Wednesday, February 25, 1998 (Texas Engineering Solutions).
Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack Volume 1: Executive Report 2004
About the author:
Dr. Edward J. Maggio is a professor of criminal justice at the New York Institute of Technology and director of the NYIT Center for Security and Disaster Response. He can be reached at email@example.com
Dr. Kevin Coleman is the director of operations for the Spy-Ops Consulting Security Consulting Group http://www.spy-ops.com/
Reprinted here with the express permission of the IACSP.
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