Blacking Out Civilization With Robotic Terrorism

My new book Blackout Warfare warns that drones or unmanned
aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used to black out national power grids.

Now, according to an FBI and DHS memo recently reported in the
press, in July 2020 a drone made a failed attack on the Pennsylvania
electric power grid. The drone, trailing electrical conductors intended
to short out high-voltage powerlines at a transformer substation,
crashed on a roof before reaching its target.
The perpetrator has not yet been identified.

A similar attack using a small manned airplane blacked out Canada's
Hydro-Québec electric grid in 2014. According to The Washington
Post:

Hydro-Quebec, Canada's largest electric utility, was hit with a
crippling blackout at the start of the winter. Traffic lights went dark,
and more than 188,000 customers lost power, including Montreal's
McGill University Health Center. ... Power exports to the Northeast
United States were cut. Industrial users were asked to slash
production ... (See The Power And The Light, 2020.)

Military drones and armed unmanned aerial vehicles are in the
process of revolutionizing warfare.

In 2020, for the first time in history, an Air Force of UAVs defeated a
traditional army of tanks, soldiers, and manned jets, giving Azerbaijan
decisive victory over Armenia in the long inconclusive Nagorno-
Karabakh war, waged on and off for over 30 years.

An ongoing technological revolution in non-nuclear electromagnetic
pulse (NNEMP) weapons is making these more powerful, more
miniaturized and lighter weight, and deliverable by drones or UAVs.

The marriage of NNEMP warheads to UAVs, 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.

A nonexplosive high-power microwave warhead, for example, can emit
repeated bursts of electromagnetic energy to upset and damage
electronic targets. Such a warhead, attached to a programmable drone
or UAV, could follow the powerlines to attack numerous transformer
and control substations, until its energy is exhausted.

Relatively small numbers of NNEMP drones or UAVs — perhaps only
one capable of protracted flight — could inflict a long nationwide
blackout. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, according to a
classified study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
disabling just 9 of 2,000 U.S. EHV transformer substations could
cause cascading failures that would crash the North American power
grid.

Thus, NNEMP unmanned aerial vehicles might be able to achieve
results similar to a nuclear EMP attack in blacking out power grids,
though the NNEMP attack would probably take hours instead of
seconds.

The technology for non-nuclear EMP generators and drones is widely
available for purchase as civilian equipment which can easily be
weaponized, even by non-state actors. For example, one U.S. company sells a NNEMP device for legitimate industrial purposes called the EMP Suitcase that looks like a suitcase,

can be carried and operated by one person, generates 100,000
volts/meter over a short distance, and can be purchased by anyone.
NNEMP devices like the EMP Suitcase could become the Dollar Store
version of weapons of mass destruction if turned against the national
electric grid by terrorists.

A German version of the EMP Suitcase weighs only 62 pounds,
easily deliverable by drone or UAV. In 2020, Northeastern University's Global Resilience Institute (GRI) tested in an EMP simulator numerous electronic components vital to the operation of electric grids and other critical infrastructures. The
GRI tests confirmed the ability for non-state actors to outfit
commercially-available platforms to conduct localized tactical EMI
attacks against electronics that support critical systems ... identified
the thresholds at which the functioning of representative electronics in
common use across multiple infrastructures could become
compromised, generating catastrophic outcomes.

This includes, but is not limited to, disruption in cybersecurity
safeguards for critical infrastructure to include key components of the
electric power grid and telecommunications system.

GRI's tests of the non-nuclear EMP threat "confirm that a small EMI
emitter that could be carried on a commercially-available drone or
terrestrial vehicle, is capable of compromising electronic components,
in common commercial use, at very low-energy levels from a
considerable distance.

Most NNEMP generators have limited range, less than 10 kilometers.
But if mated to a cruise missile or drone capable of protracted flight to
target electric grid key nodes, the results can be spectacular.
For example, Boeing's Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave
Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) cruise missile can be viewed on
the internet where CHAMP "navigated a pre-programmed flight plan
and emitted bursts of high-powered energy, effectively knocking out
the target's data and electronic subsystems. The U.S. Air Force has
purchased CHAMP cruise missiles, deployed to Japan, reportedly to
prevent North Korean missile attacks by frying their missiles,
command and control, and power grid electronics.

Russia may still be the world leader in NNEMP weapons, as was the
USSR during the Cold War. Russia's nuclear-powered cruise missile,
the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel, NATO designation SSC-X-9 Skyfall),
now under development, makes little sense as yet another missile to
deliver nuclear warheads, as advertised by Moscow.

The Storm Petrel's engines, powered by a nuclear reactor, theoretically
will give it unlimited range and limitless flying time for crossing
oceans and cruising over the U.S. The Storm Petrel could be a nuclear-
powered version of CHAMP, able to fly much farther and longer and
armed with a more potent NNEMP warhead, electrically supercharged
by the nuclear reactor.

Iran has demonstrated sophisticated UAVs and drones, using over 20
to make highly precise and coordinated attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil
processing facilities on September 14, 2019. Such delivery vehicles

could easily be armed with NNEMP warheads to make a less
sophisticated version of CHAMP.

Iran is the world's leading sponsor of international terrorism, and
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard is the world's most powerful and
sophisticated terrorist organization. The advent of Blackout
Terrorism by UAV is inevitable.

The technological revolution in NNEMP weapons and UAVs threatens
to become an electromagnetic Pearl Harbor for nations, like the
United States, that fail to fully comprehend the threat and have not
protected civilian critical infrastructures and military systems.

President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill spending trillions to "build
back better" the nation's critical infrastructures proposes spending
millions for more EMP protection studies. Someday, perhaps soon, the
infrastructure bill will prove to be a tragic missed opportunity.

What is needed is not more studies, but a crash program to protect the
U.S. electric grid, and 320 million Americans, from the looming
existential threat that is Blackout Warfare.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and
Homeland Security. 
 

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