NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Chinese military researchers have made significant advances in developing and testing strategic electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons that can disable electronics on U.S. warplanes and even entire military bases, according to a report by three open-source intelligence analysts.
Electronic controls for U.S. critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, also could be vulnerable to Chinese EMP arms, resulting in catastrophic losses, according to a new report on the threat.
“China’s rapid advancements in the field of EMP weaponry have emerged as a significant concern for the strategic landscape of global security, particularly concerning the vulnerabilities of U.S. military and civilian operations,” the report states.
The report, “There’s Darkness in the Distance: The Rising Threat of China’s EMP Weapons to U.S. Defenses and Critical Infrastructure,” was published Wednesday by military and intelligence analysts L.J. Eads, Ryan Clarke and Xiaoxu Sean Lin. The three researchers specialize in studying Chinese military and arms programs as part of a program called the Chinese Communist Party BioThreats Initiative.
An electromagnetic pulse is radiating energy first discovered during nuclear detonations. The pulses can destroy or damage electronic systems over wide areas.
According to the report, a 2020 military report states that China has a device called a high-powered magnetic pulse compressor that generates strong EMP pulses that can damage sensitive electronics.
The device poses “a considerable threat to intelligent military equipment,” the report said. A photo of the device was published in the report.
A weaponized EMP machine like the compressor could disable electronic equipment, neutralize defense systems and cripple communications. China also could employ EMP attacks against Taiwan in the first stage of a military assault against the island, the report said.
A second Chinese military research report, also from 2020, reveals that Beijing successfully destroyed micro inertial sensors that are used in advanced weapons and civilian systems that employ micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS — tiny microchips that help power a large number of smart devices. The study showed that a pulse of 780 volts and pulse amplitude of 4.23 amperes, was able to burn the sensor microchip components
“This threshold indicates the sensor’s vulnerability to electromagnetic pulses in warfare scenarios,” the report said.
The EMP weapon could destroy multiple systems on the Pentagon’s F-35 and F-22 jets, as well as the coming B-21 strategic bomber. All those rely on MEMS technology, including navigation systems, weapons systems and flight safety systems.
The radar systems on the warplanes also could be attacked by Chinese EMP weaponry, the report said.
The report also revealed China’s development of a mobile, suitcase-sized directed energy weapon. The microwave active denial system was developed by the Chinese firm CETC International Co. Ltd. CETC was among the companies sanctioned by the Biden administration for its support of the Chinese military’s balloon surveillance program.
China could use its balloon fleet in the future to conduct strategic EMP attacks against the United States, “severely compromising the nation’s critical infrastructures and defense readiness,” the report warned. The electronic denial system can be deployed to disrupt military systems by jamming or disabling critical communications used in coordinating with allies, and also take down electronic surveillance and security systems at military bases prior to commando operations.
For civilian targeting, the electronic denial system can be used to disable vital infrastructure networks, “including power grids, transportation hubs, and communication networks,” the report said.
The electronic denial system also could be used as part of what the report calls China’s “neurostrike” weaponry – brain warfare attacks on people and entire populations. The authors of the paper stated in an earlier study that China’s military is a global leader in developing brain warfare technology.
A review of China’s patent applications globally shows Beijing has filed large numbers of patent applications for high-power pulsed power sources, and high-power microwave source technologies.
International airfields, both military and civilian, are critical transportation nodes and are vulnerable to EMP attacks. Small weapons like China’s microwave active denial system thus pose a significant potential threat.
“An EMP attack targeting an airfield could create cascading effects that extend far beyond the immediate vicinity,” the report said.
Among the targets of EMP weapons are air traffic control systems, instrument landing and navigation systems and communications systems.
Critical infrastructure vulnerabilities also make EMP attacks on electric grids and communications networks attractive targets in a conflict. Power plants, substations and high-voltage lines could be hit with EMP and cause widespread blackouts. Electronic systems that control the electric grid are also vulnerable to EMP, which could cause overloads and produce equipment failures.
Cell towers, data centers and satellites also can be attacked electronically causing massive disruptions.
Transportation networks are also vulnerable. An EMP strike could disrupt rail traffic, airline communications and road traffic controls. EMP attacks also could cause financial damage, through attacks on the stock market or ATM machines.
“The potential devastation of an EMP attack on U.S. critical infrastructure is profound,” the report said. “The intertwined nature of these systems means that the failure of one could cascade to others.”
China also is developing EMP countermeasures, an indication the military thinks the use of electromagnetic weapons will be an element of future warfare.
The report urges the military and the U.S. government to rapidly develop strategies and countermeasures to meet the Chinese EMP threat.
“In essence, while the EMP threat looms large, a combination of advanced materials science, innovative circuitry, and exhaustive intelligence efforts can fortify the U.S.’s defenses, ensuring continued operational capability even in the face of EMP adversity,” the report states.
Robert McCreight, a former special operations officer and former State Department treaty negotiator, said the report reveals continuing challenges along the electromagnetic spectrum.
“This is a threat that the U.S. government urgently needs to address,” he told Inside the Ring.
Army to study ground forces in Asia
The Army recently announced plans for a new China Landpower Studies Center at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. The center is unusual in that most research and planning for conflict with China has focused solely on non-territorial warfighting domains, mainly Navy and Air Force forces.
The new Army center will be similar to other niche military study centers at institutions like the National Defense University, Air University and the Naval War College.
The new Army center will study the People’s Liberation Army and ground forces that form the core of the military’s efforts to build joint warfighting power. The center also will study Chinese national policy and strategy and help Army leaders to better understand what is now viewed as America’s main adversary.
A land war with China was not a subject for U.S. military study in the past, and the new center is expected to further complicate Chinese military calculations regarding a future invasion of Taiwan.
The PLA must now factor in that any military assault on the island democracy will not be limited to naval and air counterattacks by U.S. forces. Now, the Army could play a major role in flowing ground forces to the island.
— Contact Bill Gertz on X at @BillGertz.