The United States is drawn to EMP technology because it is potentially non-lethal but is still highly destructive. An EMP attack would leave buildings standing and spare lives, but it could destroy a sizable 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 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 EMP 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
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. 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 EMP weapons, check out the links below.