Can North Korea attack the U.S. with a space-based EMP weapon?


In 1967, the US, UK and Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty, which has been signed by 105 countries (including China). It set in place laws regarding the use of outer space and banned any nation from stationing nuclear warheads, chemical or biological weapons in space. However, the treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit, so weapons such as kinetic bombardment (i.e. attacking Earth with a projectile) are not strictly prohibited.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has taken a page from the old Soviet playbook by launching two satellites (in 2012 and 2016) that can threaten the US by – in theory, at least – attacking the US with an electromagnetic pulse as part of a surprise assault aimed at crippling the US military. The satellites would allow North Korea to play a cyber-age version of battleship diplomacy – with one of the two satellites always close to being in orbit directly over the US at any point in time. Even though North Korea does not have enough missiles with sufficient sophistication to blow up US missiles or bomber bases, just the launch of the electromagnetic pulse could severely disrupt the US electricity grid, telecoms, transport network and other forms of critical infrastructure.

Although the global media is fond of highlighting North Korea’s many missile launch failures, when viewed through the lens of potential preparations for an electromagnetic pulse attack, its launches should actually be viewed as successes. After all, two of its satellites circle the Earth, and, in spite of its many launch failures, the country continues to make significant progress in its long-range missile programme. A single warhead could disable the US national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructure for more than a year. The two North Korean satellites that orbit over the US are on trajectories consistent with a surprise electromagnetic pulse attack.

Source: South China Morning Post

Why it’s on our radar: Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security and chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, has warned for years that the North Koreans possess this capability. “We should not be tolerating the North Korean satellites that are orbiting over our country. There are two of them. And the intelligence community is still silent about those,” he told a radio program earlier this month. He said his commission has been “officially warning” policymakers about the satellites and their potential to cripple U.S. critical infrastructure, “especially now that the [intelligence] community admits that North Korea can miniaturize warheads.” 

This comes on the heels of a newly released report we discussed in Tuesday’s “Watchfloor,” in which an advisory panel is warning of a “cyber 9/11” attack if industry and government don’t speed up the process of cooperating to develop new technologies and processes for protecting crucial infrastructure.

Our analysis will appear in Friday’s Executive Intelligence Summary.  Become a Forward Observer member and receive our weekly intelligence reports.

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