Non-Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (NNEMP) weapons, more commonly known as Radio-Frequency Weapons, are non-nuclear weapons that use a variety of means, including explosively driven generators or high-power microwaves, to emit an electromagnetic pulse similar to the E1 HEMP from a nuclear weapon, except less energetic and of much shorter radius.
Unlike the nuclear HEMP threat, NNEMP weapons are much more readily available to and easily exploitable by terrorists and the least sophisticated state actors. NNEMP weapons can be built relatively inexpensively using commercially available parts and design information available on the internet.
EMP simulators that can be carried and operated by one man, and used as an NNEMP weapon, are available commercially.
Even random attacks using NNEMP weapons against less than 100 EHV transformer control substations located in all three U.S. grid systems—Eastern, Western, and Texas—would probably suffice to inflict a protracted nationwide blackout.
Special mention must be made of the ongoing technological revolution in Non-Nuclear EMP weapons, which are becoming more powerful, more miniaturized and lighter-weight, and deliverable by cruise missiles or drones. The marriage of NNEMP warheads to drones or cruise missiles, preprogrammed or equipped with sensors to follow high-power electric lines and to target control centers and transformers, introduces a major new threat to national power grids.
Dozens of nations reportedly have NNEMP weapons or are developing them. Some of these are Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Switzerland.
Non-Nuclear EMP weapons, as a cutting-edge military technology, are being developed largely clandestinely, with relatively little detailed open source reporting on specific national programs, let alone on what terrorists may be doing.
Relatively small numbers of NNEMP cruise missiles or drones—perhaps only one capable of protracted flight—could inflict a long nationwide blackout.
20 NNEMP trucks could damage 580 EHV transformer substations in 24 hours, 430 substations in the East, 120 substations in the West, 30 substations in Texas—29% of all substations nationwide. The “army” manning 20 NNEMP trucks would number just 40 men.
U.S. military power projection capabilities would be severely crippled or altogether paralyzed by a protracted nationwide blackout. CONUS military bases depend upon the civilian electric grid for 99% of their electric power.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served as Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, and on the staffs of the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA. He has authored numerous books and articles on EMP and Cyber Warfare.