The United States is drawn to EMP technology because it is potentially non-lethal, but is still highly destructive. An E-bomb attack would leave buildings standing and spare lives, but it could destroy a sizeable military.
There is a range of possible attack scenarios. Low-level electromagnetic pulses would temporarily jam electronics systems, more intense pulses would corrupt important computer data and very powerful bursts would completely fry electric and electronic equipment.
In modern warfare, the various levels of attack could accomplish a number of important combat missions without racking up many casualties. For example, an e-bomb could effectively neutralize:
- vehicle control systems
- targeting systems, on the ground and on missiles and bombs
- communications systems
- navigation systems
- long and short-range sensor systems
EMP weapons could be especially useful in an invasion of Iraq, because a pulse might effectively neutralize underground bunkers. Most of Iraq's underground bunkers are hard to reach with conventional bombs and missiles. A nuclear blast could effectively demolish many of these bunkers, but this would take a devastating toll on surrounding areas. An electromagnetic pulse could pass through the ground, knocking out the bunker's lights, ventilation systems, communications -- even electric doors. The bunker would be completely uninhabitable.
U.S. forces are also highly vulnerable to EMP attack, however. In recent years, the U.S. military has added sophisticated electronics to the full range of its arsenal. This electronic technology is largely built around consumer-grade semiconductor devices, which are highly sensitive to any power surge. More rudimentary vacuum tube technology would actually stand a better chance of surviving an e-bomb attack.
A widespread EMP attack in any country would compromise a military's ability to organize itself. Ground troops might have perfectly functioning non-electric weapons (like machine guns), but they wouldn't have the equipment to plan an attack or locate the enemy. Effectively, an EMP attack could reduce any military unit into a guerilla-type army.
While EMP weapons are generally considered non-lethal, they could easily kill people if they were directed towards particular targets. If an EMP knocked out a hospital's electricity, for example, any patient on life support would die immediately. An EMP weapon could also neutralize vehicles, including aircraft, causing catastrophic accidents.
In the end, the most far-reaching effect of an e-bomb could be psychological. A full-scale EMP attack in a developed country would instantly bring modern life to a screeching halt. There would be plenty of survivors, but they would find themselves in a very different world.
For more information about e-bombs and other EMP weapons, check out the links below.
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- The Electromagnetic Bomb -- a Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction
- E-Bombs and Terrorists
- Weapon of the Week: The Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon
- Clean Bomb Can Knock Out Electronics
- The Electronic Blanket
- Science Friday: The EMP Bomb
- EMP Shockwaves as a Result of Nuclear Pulse Propulsion
- Congressional Hearing: Threat Posed by EMP
- Dropping the E-Bomb
- Experts Say EMP Devices Threaten U.S.
- High-Power Microwave (HPM) E-Bomb
- The Compton Effect