The Complex

STRATCOM chief: EMP threat is "not a Cold War relic"

The threat of an electromagnetic pulse damaging the U.S. military is "not a Cold War relic," the Pentagon's top nuclear officer said today during a congressional hearing, in response to a lawmaker's question about the threat of an EMP attack.

And you thought the topic died with Newt Gingrich's presidential candidacy.

The Air Force in particular needs to harden its new crop of long-range bombers and drones that are sent against advanced defenses, according to Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, chief of United States Strategic Command. The new stealth bomber will be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and so its electronics need to be able to withstand the electromagnetic pulse emitted by a nuclear explosion. (The image above shows the Air Force's E-4B flying command post, commonly known as the doomsday plane, being tested to ensure it can survive an EMP.)

"It is something we need to prepare some of our systems to deal with in the operational environment," Kehler said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "Particularly in anti-access, area denial environments in the future, one of the ways that adversaries will try to take away U.S. advantages will be through the electromagnetic spectrum -- whether that's jamming, whether that's some kind of electromagnetic interference, whether it's through cyber, or whether that's through an electromagnetic pulse."

It was unclear how concerned Kehler was about the threat of an EMP strike on the homeland -- a scenario I rarely hear military officials discuss outside of war games that look at every plausible threat to the United States. But Kehler said, "We have a lot of work to do, I am not yet comfortable" with the amount of work being done to deal with the threat of an EMP attack. "I think we haven't paid nearly enough attention to this."

Kehler told lawmakers that the U.S. military has recently stood up units dedicated to monitoring for and responding to any type of electromagnetic "issues" -- whether an an EMP strike, electromagnetic interference, or a cyber attack.

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National Security

Yes, DHS really does have MRAPs (Updated)


Yes, the vehicle of choice for fighting the counterinsurgency war in Iraq is appearing on U.S. streets. This video posted to YouTube shows an officer with the Department of Homeland Security's El Paso Special Response Team showing off one of DHS's 16 brand semi-new MRAPs (remember: that acronym stands for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected).

This MRAP has been modified to carry "operators" (not officers -- it's as if we're sending SOF teams to serve warrants now) riding shotgun on the outside of the vehicle or inside the heavily armored truck while they service "high-risk warrants." Notice the firing ports below the windows, which are thick enough to stop a .50 caliber bullet.

Whether justified by the criminal threat or not, the notion of MRAPs loaded with  "operators" who are tricked out in what used to be special-ops gear performing law-enforcement duties - like serving a warrant -- seems a little creepy. Wouldn't the normal armored trucks that SWAT teams have used for the last 30 years cut it?

While law-enforcement agencies have a long history of buying military surplus gear and even borrowing military tactics for special situations, the term MRAP and "operator" immediately conjure images of military operations to subdue insurgencies among local populations during the last decade's wars.

As one would expect, tales of DHS buying 2,700 MRAPs from the Army (in reality, DHS only has 16, a fleet that it started building around 2008) inflamed the government conspiracy corners of the blogosphere. Just do a quick Google search of the term DHS MRAP and you can see for yourself.