So what are our thoughts on the threat of an electromagnetic pulse event (God forbid) causing some sort of catastrophic damage to our telecommunications, power, and whatever other kind of electronic infrastructure that might be out there? I know, I know…it depends who you talk to! Being in the EMC business, I’d like to believe that I understand the fundamental issue (danger) to our infrastructure and systems but at the same time I’d also like to believe that it’ll never happen. At the end of the day, I don’t think we can afford to be that naïve. While we’ll probably never suffer an actual nuclear EMP from a burst over the US (he says knocking wood), I can certainly imagine terrorist produced, electronically created EMPs on a smaller scale, say, taking out a city, for example. And the possibility has certainly gotten the attention of both Congress and the Pentagon, as there have been EMP programs popping up in all the Services in recent years. It’s a bit like Back to the Future…a lot of you will remember the robust EMP related programs (can you say EMPRESS II?) back in the day that died out with the end of the Cold War. Like previous efforts, some of the current efforts are to assess the current protection levels (EMP “hardness”) of existing infrastructure, some are to develop and promulgate better design standards and some are to examine improved protection methods.
I’m all for EMP-hardened infrastructure, platforms and systems. A lot of that is just good EMC design and manufacturing practices (grounding, bonding and shielding). But at what cost? Retrofitting existing facilities, platforms and systems, even those considered critical to our defense or strategic in nature is simply beyond the governments financial means these days. From a purely selfish (business) perspective, the development and publication of new EMP design standards as well as the imposition of existing hardness requirements, is a great start. But it really all starts with making EMP survivability a system performance requirement and then following that through design, testing/verification, production, etc. to ensure that the fielded product is actually EMP survivable. The requirement shouldn’t be watered down, pushed out to the right (schedule lingo!) or heaven forbid waived! We can’t just try to field hardened systems, we should simply do it or not do it. The design techniques are pretty robust at this point in technology and frankly, pretty simple for the most part.
In the famous words of Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try. That is why you failed!