Non-Nuclear EMP Attacks: A Growing Threat

E-bombs are the fastest-growing risk in the world of EMP. These non-nuclear devices are becoming more powerful and easier to build.

E-bombs shoot out an energy pulse similar to a nuclear EMP. E-bombs, however, create local damage, not the regional or national damage of a nuclear EMP attack. At best, the current versions of these devices can damage electronics at a distance of a hundred feet to a quarter mile.

Unlike nuclear EMP weapons, however, some e-bombs can be turned on and off at will -- they are not destroyed by a single use. And they are much easier to build and use.

An E-Bomb Scenario
Lincoln TunnelImagine an e-bomb stored in the back of a large delivery truck. The terrorist hardens the truck so that it won't stall when the e-bomb is turned on.

The terrorist activates the e-bomb while exiting a tunnel in New York, Boston, or another major city. Many cars in the tunnel stall, and 10% (or more) won't restart.

The terrorist drives around the city, turning on the device when near sensitive targets. The closer the truck is to an electronic device, the stronger the damage.

City TrafficAt major intersections, traffic signals crash and some won't reboot. At high-rise buildings, phone systems and elevators stop working and may not restart. In offices, computers and other electronics freeze up or burn out. On streets and buildings, security cameras shut down.

The terrorist drives out of the city across a bridge or through another tunnel, triggering the device as he leaves the toll booth. Cars stall, toll booth equipment burns out, and another traffic jam is created.

Emergency crews work to clear roads, fix traffic lights, and reach people trapped in high-rise buildings. Businesses try to fix equipment and recover data. Police finally figure out what happened and start to search all trucks coming into the city, creating more traffic jams and delaying repair efforts.

The terrorist has not directly killed anyone. He changes signs on the sides of the truck, switches the license plates, and is ready to go to another major city.

How Realistic Is This?
The image below shows four truck-trailer devices already built by the US Military. They are stationed at the White Sands Test Center, but can be taken anywhere they are needed. These are self-contained, portable devices that the military uses to test EMP hardening.

HPM EMP Ebomb Trucks

One type of e-bomb that can be turned on and off is called a Vircator. If you want to be worried, do a Google search on, "Vircator plans." Or do a Google Scholar search on Vircator. Scientists from all over the world are researching the topic and publishing plans. These e-bombs are becoming more powerful and smaller.

Boeing and the US Air Force successfully tested a High-Power Microwave (HPM) missile in 2011. They are working toward a cruise missile that can fly down a road or over a city, destroying electronics in a targeted path.

Knowledge of e-bomb devices is widespread. The United States television show NCIS built a mock-up non-nuclear EMP for a television episode. The photo at right shows the mock-up on a Los Angeles rooftop. (Photo courtesy Shane Brennan Productions.) The mock-up design was based on information from e-bomb expert Dr. Carlo Kopp.

Finally, this type of e-bomb is explosives-free. All a terrorist needs is money to buy the materials and technical knowledge to build the device.

Not Just Radical Muslims
Unabomber Anti-TechnologySince the 9/11 attacks, many people think of radical Muslims as the main source of terror. Domestic terrorists, however, are just a much a threat. In May, 2012, for example, five anarchists tried to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, Ohio.

The best case of someone who might have used an e-bomb is the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski was a genius and a paranoid schizophrenic. He became fixated on technology as the source of the world's problems. Kaczynski built mail bombs and sent them to people across the country, killing three and injuring 23 more.

Imagine a person like Kaczynski today. Using plans on the Internet, he could build an e-bomb without arousing government suspicion. Remember that Vircator-type e-bombs require no explosives, only uncontrolled, commercially-available materials. For an intelligent person, the main limit is money.

Explosives Driven E-Bombs
There is another kind of e-bomb called an explosively-pumped flux-compression generator. Scientists developed this kind of device in the 1950s. It is less of a threat because the device requires explosives and is destroyed in creating a single energy pulse. When terrorists are able to make or buy explosives, they usually try more direct attacks.

"A truck-mounted RF weapon... likely would be large enough to act from at least a few tens to 100 feet and mobile enough to have a reasonable chance of escaping before detection."

Dr. William Grahm, 1999 US Congressional Testimony