North Korea could wipe out the U.S.'s electricity and food supplies, and destroy up to 90% of its population with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, experts have warned the U.S. Congress.
EMPs, transported via warheads above the earth's atmosphere, emit rapid and invisible bursts of electromagnetic energy that could jam an entire continent's entire power grid, phone lines, and internet.
And because EMPs spread in a radius of hundreds or even thousands of kilometers, such attack wouldn't require as much accuracy to hit a target than other weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, said a congressional report, titled "North Korea Nuclear EMP Attack: An Existential Threat."
EMPs would jam the U.S. electrical grid and destroy the online and telephone infrastructure that currently supports the US's 320 million population. Airline and air traffic control electronics would also be destroyed.
"Airliners would crash killing many of the 500,000 people flying over North America at any given moment," Peter Vincent Pry, a former CIA analyst and one of the report's authors, told Forbes.
He added that the country's food supplies would be decimated by radiation and up to 90% of the population would die within a year.
Many other experts, however, have doubted that North Korea was capable of an EMP attack.
In May, Jeffrey Lewis, a California-based analyst who monitors North Korean propaganda for clues on Pyongyang's nuclear development, laughed for seven seconds when asked whether North Korea had the capability of launching such an attack.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Defense also withdrew funding from the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, which Pry headed.
Pry's report warned, however, that "massive intelligence failures" had underestimated Pyongyang's long-range missiles, and that the country should start getting serious.
"After massive intelligence failures grossly underestimating North Korea's long-range missile capabilities, number of nuclear weapons, warhead miniaturization, and proximity to an H-Bomb, the biggest North Korean threat to the US remains unacknowledged — nuclear EMP attack," the congressional report said.
North Korea could launch an EMP attack on the U.S. "by launching a short-range missile off a freighter or submarine or by lofting a warhead to 30 kilometers burst height by balloon," the report added. "Or an EMP attack might be made by a North Korean satellite, right now."
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, has repeatedly warned that the U.S. was unprepared for such an attack.
Last month, North Korea claimed to have developed a hydrogen bomb that could be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile and launch an EMP attack. The ICBM, it added, could potentially travel about 6,200 miles — putting the majority of the U.S. continent within range.
On Monday, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told his U.S. and South Korean counterparts that the North Korean threat had "grown to the unprecedented, critical and imminent level," Reuters reported.