Did Iran Just Demonstrate It Can Take Down the US?

By Tommy Waller
Tommy Waller
Tommy Waller
Tommy Waller serves as Director of Infrastructure Protection at the Center for Security Policy. Prior to joining the Center, Waller served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps in the infantry and reconnaissance specialties, with combat service overseas in numerous theaters, and service on both active duty and in the reserves. Waller currently manages the Secure the Grid Coalition—a group of policymakers, defense professionals, and activists working diligently to secure America’s most critical infrastructure—the U.S. electric grid. Learn more at SecureTheGrid.com.
April 24, 2020Updated: April 26, 2020


Last week, the Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly successfully launched a military satellite using the same advanced technologies that guide intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten didn’t categorize whether the launch was successful but did confirm the missile that was used “traveled a long way.”

Nevertheless, a prominent satellite tracking service now shows the “Nour 1” in orbit, which should be of great concern to the United States.

The type of ballistic missile technology used to launch this satellite could deliver nuclear, chemical, or even biological weapons to “wipe Israel off the map,” attack U.S. bases and allies in the region, and even U.S. and NATO installations as far away as Western Europe.

One particular concern about Iran having nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles is the fact that it creates a deterrent umbrella, under which the jihadist regime would have a free hand to continue and even escalate its sponsorship and direct support for terrorism around the world. Countries with such a deterrent are less concerned about punitive or retaliatory strikes because of that capability.

While officials in Washington disagree on the extent of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, credible experts have warned that we must operate under the assumption that the Iranians already possess at least some level of nuclear weapons capability.

Furthermore, Iran’s constitution establishes an explicitly offensive posture, declaring that its military is “responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.”

Iranian leaders see the United States as its chief obstacle to fulfilling this ideological obligation.

So, if the Iranians do possess nuclear weapons and if the launch of a satellite was indeed successful, they will have demonstrated the ability to attack even the United States, which the regime considers “The Great Satan,” its foremost adversary. They could do that through a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

Electromagnetic Pulse

The Congressional EMP Commission has long warned that a single nuclear weapon detonated at a high altitude would take down the U.S. electric grid and all of our critical infrastructures with it. Similarly, on March 28, 2017, The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reported to the 114th Congress the following:

“A successful nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States could cause the death of approximately 90 percent of the American population.”

The commission’s 2017 report, titled “Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios and Combined-Arms Cyber Warfare,” provides ample evidence from Iranian strategic writings that the regime in Tehran actively considers EMP as a decisive method of defeating the United States. The report points out a quote from an Iranian political-military journal article titled “Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars,” which stated:

“Once you confuse the enemy communication network, you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command and decision-making center. Even worse, today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. … If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults, then they will disintegrate within a few years. … American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot.”

Since 99 percent of America’s military installations depend upon the completely unprotected civilian electric grid and the EMP-vulnerable communications systems that undergird this life-sustaining infrastructure, this isn’t Iranian hyperbole.

Moreover, the Iranians need not worry about an ICBM’s accuracy or the effectiveness of the warhead’s re-entry into the atmosphere in order to conduct an EMP attack. If armed with a nuclear weapon, a satellite in orbit around the earth at an altitude of 425 kilometers (almost 265 miles) could produce an EMP field that would cover the entire United States and most of North America.

The concept of using a satellite to conduct a surprise EMP attack against the United States was pioneered by the Soviets in the 1960s, in what was known during the Cold War as a “Fractional Orbital Bombardment System,” or “FOBS.” Ambassador Henry Cooper, the former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, warned more than four years ago:

“It should be emphasized that Iran’s satellites, like North Korea’s, are launched to the South and approach the United States from over the South Polar regions. To the best of my knowledge, our “homeland” ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems are designed to intercept ICBMs that approach the United States from over the North Polar regions—In effect, we have left the back door open while attempting to lock the front door.”

Epoch Times Photo
Screen capture from a satellite tracking service showing the Nour satellite at 9:06 am ET on April 24, 2020, on its second pass over the earth. Note that its first pass traveled over the Gulf of Mexico and across the United States on a trajectory moving from South to North.

The Iranians are not the first to have rehearsed this method of attacking the United States via a satellite launch. The Congressional EMP Commission has warned extensively about North Korea’s KMS-3 (launched on Dec. 12, 2013) and KMS-4 (launched on Feb. 7, 2016), which were both launched into orbit in the same fashion, described by the commission as “moving from south to north on a polar trajectory that evades U.S. early-warning radars and National Missile Defenses, at the near-optimum altitude and location to place an EMP field over all 48 contiguous United States.”


Fortunately, it’s both technically possible and affordable to protect our critical national infrastructures against EMP, and both the president (through Executive Order 138652) and Congress (through sections 1720, 1740, and 1790 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020) have directed that to happen.

A positive development this week is the release of a study by the Foundation for Resilient Societies, titled “Protecting U.S. Electric Grid Communications from Electromagnetic Pulse,” which provides the utility industry many of the intellectual tools it needs to begin this important work, alongside helpful suggestions for where it can seek funding.

Since the electric grid is the single most critical aspect of maintaining public health, the president and Congress should consider that the next “Phase 4 COVID-19 stimulus package,” which is supposed to target infrastructure investments, be directed first and foremost toward securing our electric grid against all hazards, including the catastrophic EMP that can be produced by Russia, China, North Korea, and now—possibly—Iran.

Tommy Waller serves as director of infrastructure protection at the Center for Security Policy. Before joining the Center, Waller served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps in the infantry and reconnaissance specialties, with combat service overseas in numerous theaters, and service on both active duty and in the reserves. Waller currently manages the Secure the Grid Coalition—a group of policymakers, defense professionals, and activists working diligently to secure America’s most critical infrastructure—the U.S. electric grid. Learn more at SecureTheGrid.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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