A Tale of China, EMP and Transformers — America's Achilles Heel
- Original Publication can be found here: https://www.newsmax.com/henryfcooper/emp-transformers/2021/07/16/id/1028847/
“I'm wondering in Washington how many folks are truly persuaded by the warning which the intelligence community has already provided, regarding the dangers that exist within this decade, soon, now, with regard to the nature of the Chinese threat, and how it manifests, and what to do about it. ... We would say the danger is clear and present already.” ~ Rear Adm. Mike Studeman, Top U.S. intelligence officer for the Asia-Pacific region
RADM Studeman last week became the latest Indo-Pacific Command official to voice such sentiments, and some also question whether the United States, even with enough warning, is prepared to move military capabilities into the region.
The Pentagon’s 2022 budget request does not reflect the threat of China’s military and economic rise, though China is a major focus of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and declarations from top defense leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. And former naval officer Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., echoed these concerns in her July 7 Wall Street Journal Article, “Does the Pentagon Take China Seriously?”
What U.S. defense leaders say doesn’t line up with what they do — e.g., they identify China as our No. 1 challenge, often calling Beijing “an increasingly capable strategic competitor,” while budget requests reduce Navy and Air Force capabilities — and they have major roles in any conflict in the Western Pacific. And budgets promise weapons that may take decades to develop, funded by a “divest to invest” strategy.
Moreover, Washington (both in Congress and the executive branch) is ignoring the existential threat posed by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, which is included in the military doctrine of China (as well as Russia, North Korea and Iran.) We have a disaster waiting to happen as pointed out by my fellow Reaganite, former Secretary of the Navy William P. Middendorf in “Five Ways China Can Put The U.S. On Defense Without Firing A Shot.” As he observed,
“In February 2021, Texas suffered a major power crisis due to three severe winter storms sweeping across the United States. It resulted in shortages of water, food, and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, some for several days. At least 151 people were killed directly or indirectly. What happened in Texas should serve as a wake-up call to the dangers of an enemy attack on our national grid system. A single attack on our national grid system could bring our nation to its knees. Such an attack would fry the Pentagon’s electronics, leaving the U.S. military unable to retaliate. Imagine a city, county, or state without power. There would be no communication of any kind – not a landline, mobile device, or Internet. Hospitals would have no power – main or emergency. The safety of the water supply would deteriorate rapidly. There would be little to no access to money. ATMs wouldn’t function, and banks would close out of security concerns. Food shortages would develop, followed by rioting and civil unrest. Experts predict that ninety percent of all Americans would die a year after an EMP event.”
The irony is that we have long known how to avoid this situation, indeed publicly known by means sponsored by Congress in establishing two decades ago the Congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack — also known as the Congressional EMP Commission.
The Commission, made up of technical experts, issued its first report in 2004, its second in 2008 and its third in 2017. These are the most authoritative reports on addressing natural and manmade EMP threats.
For decades, EMP protection has been employed to protect our most important military systems, but largely ignored by the “powers that be” in Washington — at least in protecting our electric power grid and other critical civil infrastructure, upon which the survival of the American People depends.
And thousands of large transformers essential to grid operations have never been tested to assure they would continue to function following an EMP event.
In an August 5, 2010 press release, former Rep. Roscoe Bartley, R-Md., a primary founder of the EMP Commission, noted: “These transformers are not manufactured in the U.S. and cost $10 million each and take 1-2 years to deliver.” They are even more expensive today.
We learned how dependent the grid is on these transformers when the April 16, 2013 “terrorist” attack on the Metcalf transmission substation near San Jose, Calif., severely damaged 17 transformers, potentially causing a cascading failure of the local grid that came close to blacking out all of Silicon Valley and its high technology companies.
This opened the door for important public reports, e.g., notably by Rebecca Smith’s Wall Street Journal articles:
- Her February 5, 2014 “Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism” quoted Jon Wellinghoff, then Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that the attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
- Her March 4, 2014 “Transformers Expose Limits in Securing Power Grids” focused these concerns.
- Her March 12, 2014 “U.S. Risks National Blackout From Small Scale Attack” reported that a FERC study indicated a national blackout would result from cascading grid failures “if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the nation’s 55,000 electric transmission substations on a scorching summer day.”
- Her May 27, 2021 “U.S. Seizure of Chinese-Built Transformer Raises Specter of Closer Scrutiny” reported that U.S. energy companies have purchased several hundred large transformers from China — and that one was transferred to Sandia Laboratories for testing, but without details of lessons-learned.
Having installed several thousand essential transformers in the U.S. grid without testing is unsettling to say the least, because of China’s (and others’) well-known and growing cyberattack capabilities. And the longstanding threatening EMP threat.
They are our Achilles Heel, which we continue to ignore at our peril.