It won't take a number of nuclear weapons in a number of cities to do the damage. All it will take is one. It won't need to be used in Washington, DC in order to decapitate the American government. It won't even need to be smuggled on to US soil.
All it takes is a single missile capable of carrying a warhead high above the atmosphere over the US. It does not need to descend to a designated target. All it needs to do is detonate, creating an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that will disrupt or damage electrical systems and damage or destroy electronics. With a single high altitude detonation, Iran's nuclear weapon could send portions of the US back to the mid-18th Century. There will be little or no electrical generation, telecommunications will not work, and in short order, people will start dying. There will be no transportation, needed to move food, no electricity, needed to run every aspect of our modern life, and no communications, needed for everything from calling for help to running the government.
The...scenario is the one envisioned by a long-running commission to assess the threat from electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. The subject of its latest, and little discussed, report to Congress is the effect an EMP attack could have on civilian infrastructure.
An EMP attack occurs when a nuclear bomb explodes high in the Earth's atmosphere. The electromagnetic pulse generated by the blast destroys all the electronics in its line of sight. For a bomb detonated over the Midwest, that includes most of the continental U.S. Few, if any, people die in the blast. It's what comes next that has the potential to be catastrophic. Since an EMP surge wipes out electronics, virtually every aspect of modern American life would come to a standstill.
The commission's list of horribles is 181 pages long. The chapter on food, for instance, catalogs the disruptions up and down the production chain as food spoils or has no way to get to market. Many families have food supplies of several days or more. But after that, and without refrigeration, what? The U.S. also has 75,000 dams and reservoirs, 168,000 drinking water-treatment facilities, and 19,000 wastewater treatment centers -- all with pumps, valves and filters run by electricity.
Getting everything up and running again is not merely a matter of flipping a switch, and the commission estimates that many systems could be out of service for months or a year or more -- far longer than emergency stockpiles or batteries could cover. The large transformers used in electrical transmission are no longer built in the U.S. and delivery time is typically three years.
Do you think Iran wouldn't or couldn't pull off such an attack? Think again.
Iran has carried out missile tests for what could be a plan for a nuclear strike on the United States, the head of a national security panel has warned.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and in remarks to a private conference on missile defense over the weekend hosted by the Claremont Institute, Dr. William Graham warned that the U.S. intelligence community “doesn’t have a story” to explain the recent Iranian tests.
One group of tests that troubled Graham, the former White House science adviser under President Ronald Reagan, were successful efforts to launch a Scud missile from a platform in the Caspian Sea.
Another troubling group of tests involved Shahab-3 launches where the Iranians “detonated the warhead near apogee, not over the target area where the thing would eventually land, but at altitude,” Graham said. “Why would they do that?”
The answer is simple: Replace the conventional warhead with a nuclear weapon and it's the exact launch and mission profile that would be used for an EMP attack. With their Shahab-3 boosters, all Iran would need to do is launch their missile from a freighter off the coast of the US in order to get a detonation over the central US. What's even worse is that we'd have only a few minutes warning from NORAD of the launch and there'd be little we could do about it except wait for the lights to go out.
While many of the military systems might survive such an attack, there would be little they could do, either. Unless Iran came right out and admitted they'd committed the attack or we otherwise had proof of their perfidy, the military wouldn't have a target to retaliate against. But if they did, about the only satisfaction we might have is to learn our military reduced Iran to radioactive slag.
Hardening our infrastructure to be resistant to EMP is something we must do if we are to take this particular weapon out of the hands of powers that have nothing but animosity towards the US. As a side effect, such hardening would also help protect our infrastructure from electrical and electronic disruption caused by massive solar flares. (A small consideration, but a beneficial one, nonetheless.)
It isn't only Iran we have to worry about. There are other antagonistic nations out there with nuclear capability that would love nothing better than to see America brought to its knees. But at the moment Iran appears to be the biggest threat in that regard.