December 7th, 2021, marks the 80th anniversary of Imperial Japan’s 1941 surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, dealing a near fatal blow to America’s naval power at the outset of World War II with carrier aviation, a revolutionary new military technology.
By 1941, Nazi Germany had conquered most of Western Europe using revolutionary combined-arms military tactics and new technologies in air power and armored divisions to wage Blitzkrieg (“Lightning War”) conquering all, including initially the huge armies of the USSR.
In December 1941, the Allies were losing World War II in Europe and Asia. Surprised strategically and technologically, bastions of freedom in the United States and Britain looked like they would be crushed between the jaws of the all-conquering, seemingly invincible, Axis powers.
Today, while the Biden administration fantasizes about existential threats from white supremacy, climate change, and “unvaccinated deplorables”—the Free World faces a real existential threat worse than 1941.
The New Axis: China and Russia
For the second time in 2021, Russia is poised to conquer Ukraine and possibly overrun the frontline NATO states in Eastern Europe, while China threatens to conquer Taiwan and annex the South China Sea. After years of denial, some in Washington and the international diplomatic community are finally awakening to the fact that China and Russia are working together and are a “New Axis” bent on global domination.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, in “The Drums of War in Taiwan and Ukraine” (Diplomatic Courier: 27 November 2021) warns:
“No one doubts that a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan would radically change East Asia’s security order, just as a Russian military takeover of Ukraine would upend the security order in Europe. But what has not been fully appreciated is the possibility of both happening simultaneously in a more or less coordinated fashion. Taken together, these two acts of conquest would fundamentally shift the global balance of power, sounding the death knell for diplomatic and security arrangements that have underpinned global peace for decades.”
Like the Axis powers of 1941, the New Axis poses a strategic and technological surprise that may make the legions of totalitarianism irresistible.
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EMP: The Slide Rule Sighting
Journalist Joseph Hammond in “Ruling The Skies? Astonishment As Russian Fighter Pilots Use Slide Rules In Mach 2 Jets” (22 November 2021) notes that on November 11, during an air patrol “in the tense skies over Central Europe” along the Belarus-Poland border, video “shot aboard a Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber and released by the Russian Ministry of Defense” shows a crew member using a slide rule for calculations, probably for navigation.
U.S. and allied air forces rely on satellites and computers for navigation and targeting, as do normally the air forces of Russia and China. But at least Russia continues to train for navigation by slide rule.
Hammond notes that slide rules “don’t need electric power and are therefore nuclear explosion-proof…detonation of a nuclear weapon creates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)” that can destroy electronics and satellites. Satellites and high-tech electronics are indispensable to U.S. and allied military power.
Hammond observes that in 1976, when Soviet Colonel Viktor Belenko defected to the West by flying to Japan in his MiG-25, then the USSR’s most advanced fighter aircraft:
“What most marveled U.S. investigators was its use of vacuum tubes long after the United States had switched to semiconductors. Was the Soviet Union really that far behind? Investigators realized the use of vacuum tubes was intentional, as the aircraft would still be able to operate after an EMP…Such Cold War thinking may still predominate in the Russian military as the sighting of the slide rule aboard the Tu-160 Blackjack [Russia’s most advanced nuclear bomber] suggests.”
Vacuum tubes are about one million times less vulnerable to EMP than modern microelectronics. It is no accident that Russia is the world’s leading producer of vacuum tube electronics for military and civilian purposes.
EMP: The ASAT Demonstration
Russia provided a bigger threat than the “slide rule sighting” to remind the West of its unilateral vulnerability to EMP. On November 15, Moscow used its new S-500 anti-missile for an anti-satellite (ASAT) mission, destroying an obsolete Russian satellite by impact.
The S-500, armed with a nuclear warhead, could sweep the skies of Low-Earth-Orbit military satellites that provide C3I (command-control-communications-intelligence) to U.S. and allied air forces, armies, and navies.
Russia’s ASAT demonstration came without warning and caught the U.S. so completely by surprise that it was feared the International Space Station and its crew might be endangered by debris from the destroyed satellite.
Moscow’s ASAT test, really tantamount to an act of aggression, performed amidst NATO fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, was a stark demonstration of the West’s military vulnerability.
The New Axis: North Korea and Iran
If there is a World War III, perhaps the biggest strategic surprise to Washington officialdom will be that not only Russia and China, but also North Korea and Iran, comprise the New Axis, as they all share common strategic and ideological interests.
Strategically, these states are all dissatisfied with the established world order led by the United States and its allies. Like Germany before World Wars I and II, they perceive themselves as threatened, victim nations, hemmed in territorially and economically by an international system built by rival powers.
Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang, and Tehran would all like to overthrow the existing world order and replace it with a new world order—dominated by themselves.
All also see “the world’s only superpower” that is the United States as the greatest threat to their existence. No matter how benign the U.S. really is, they do not, perhaps cannot, see anything but that the U.S. is a great potential threat.
The New Axis are militant dictatorships because they are obsessed with survival and dominance to the point of sacrificing prosperity. Co-existence might be a temporary necessity. But real security is achieved by dominance, by the annihilation of rivals, a view like that in organized crime. An unsurprising parallel, as these are criminal states.
Ideologically, contrary to common Western assumptions, these “outsider” states do not perceive the United States and the West as necessary to their prosperity, but as impediments actively hostile to their existence. Totalitarian and authoritarian societies see politics and economics, power and wealth, as a zero-sum game with winners and losers, the living and the dead.
Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran do not blame themselves for their economic and political problems—they blame the West.
Moreover, they fear the free political, economic, and cultural systems represented by the United States and the West, so alien and diametrically opposed to their own totalitarian and authoritarian systems. Like ancient militarist Sparta, in its war with democratic Athens, that made common cause against Athens with all the other city-states run by tyrants, the elites of Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran are united by their fear and hatred of freedom.
EMP World War
World War III, if it happens, is likely to be an EMP World War.
EMP will strike at the technological Achilles Heel of the West, swifter and more decisive than Nazi Germany’s “Lightning War” of World War II. And the West is so fearful of nuclear weapons that their first use by adversaries—even if only for EMP electronic warfare, producing no or relatively few mass casualties immediately—will probably send Washington, London, Berlin, and Tokyo scrambling for the first “off ramp.”
An EMP World War might unfold as follows:
Iran Strikes Israel first, surprising the West that Iran has nuclear weapons and the capability to make an EMP attack, as some have warned. China, Russia, and North Korea wait for U.S. forces rescuing Israel to concentrate in the Persian Gulf, as the U.S. can no longer fight more than one big theater war. When U.S. forces are committed to the Middle East, simultaneously or in rapid succession:
North Korea Strikes South Korea and Japan
China Strikes Taiwan
Russia Strikes European NATO
Finally, if necessary:
Russia, China, and North Korea Strike the United States
This sequencing of EMP attacks would maximally exploit the U.S. “hollow” military that is no longer able to support major military operations in more than one theater. The proposed scenario would confront the U.S. nearly simultaneously with an EMP World War in four theaters—in five theaters if the U.S. itself is attacked.
EMP is essentially an anti-technology weapon—and perhaps the perfect ‘silver bullet’ to defeat and humble the high-tech military of the United States that is the basis for Washington’s claim to be “the world’s only superpower.”
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
What Is To Be Done?
The recommendations of the EMP Commission made to the Congress and the White House 13 years ago in 2008, again in 2017, and the 2019 White House “Executive Order on Coordinating Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” should be implemented immediately on an emergency basis. EMP protection of U.S. military and civilian critical infrastructures should become a crash program, accorded the kind of priority given to invention of the first atomic bombs during the second world war’s Manhattan Project. All the unclassified EMP Commission reports are available at www.firstempcommission.org.
The White House and Congress should amend the Infrastructure Bill to implement the above recommendations for protecting all critical infrastructures. At the very least, the national electric grid should be EMP protected. The electric grid is the keystone critical infrastructure that sustains the lives of 330 million Americans and provides 99% of the electricity needed by CONUS military bases for national defense:
At minimum, the Infrastructure Bill should invest $30 million in Duke Energy’s Lake Wylie Project, a pilot program that could prevent the nation’s 100 nuclear power reactors from “going Fukushima” after an EMP, making them “islands of survivability” for recovering the nation;
As little as $200 million could protect EHV transformers and SCADAs that service the most populous cities, and provide some chance of saving the lives of millions after an EMP;
Investing $2-4 billion would protect the national electric bulk power system and, with smart planning, recover U.S. electric grids from an EMP before the onset of mass starvation;
Investing $20-30 billion would provide the most robust EMP protection of electric grids, or could significantly increase survivability of all the life-sustaining critical infrastructures.
The Infrastructure Bill spends millions on additional studies of the EMP threat, but does little or nothing to actually protect the critical infrastructures. Indeed, provisions intended to mitigate “climate change” will significantly increase electric grid vulnerability to EMP and Cyber Warfare. It is national security malfeasance to spend over $1 trillion on an Infrastructure Bill that leaves the nation vulnerable to the existential threat from EMP.
The U.S. nuclear deterrent, global strike forces, and C3I including military satellites, should be hardened to survive the threat environment from Super-EMP weapons.
The U.S. should develop and deploy Super-EMP weapons to deter an EMP World War.
Additionally or alternatively, the U.S. should revive the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to deploy space-based missile defenses against nuclear, EMP, and ASAT attack. Ambassador Henry Cooper, former Director of SDI, estimates space-based anti-missile defenses like Brilliant Pebbles could be developed in 5 years for $20 billion.
The best defense is to prevent an EMP attack from happening in the first place.
This story was originally published here. 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, Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, and on the staffs of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of Blackout Warfare (2021) and The Power And The Light (2020).
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