Taiwan has reinforced a critical missile command center against the threat of High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) attacks, a response to growing concerns China may use such weaponry to plunge the self-governing island into chaos before or during a potential invasion and deter a possible US intervention.
Last month, Taiwan News reported that the self-governing island’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed that the Taiwanese Navy has hardened a key missile command center against possible HEMP attacks but denied any new facility has been built for that express purpose.
Taiwan News notes that there are concerns in Taipei that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could detonate nuclear weapons at high altitudes to instantly paralyze all electronic equipment and hamper military defense efforts.
The report notes that the Taiwanese Navy has already completed the Gangping Camp in New Taipei City’s Sanzhi District, which can withstand HEMP attacks. The base is affiliated with the Haifeng Brigade, the Taiwanese Navy’s motorized land-based anti-ship missile unit.
The Gangping Camp’s critical component is reportedly the shielding room, which is designed and constructed according to US military nuclear protection standards.
The Taiwan News report says the structure combines outer steel beams and steel columns to block HEMP radiation electromagnetic waves, reducing their force from as high as 50,000 volts per meter to just 5 volts per meter.
It also notes that the shield room has a complete ship monitoring system for the waters surrounding northern Taiwan and a fire control center for shore-based anti-ship missiles.
Taiwan News says that if China were to launch a HEMP attack, the base in Sanzhi would probably still be able to command the launch of Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile launchers in northern coastal areas as well as shore-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
China has conducted extensive research into developing HEMP weapons, which it views as critical to its military doctrine.
Vincent Pry notes in a June 2020 study for the US EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security that China has invested heavily in protecting its own military forces and critical infrastructures from HEMP effects.
Pry says that China views a nuclear HEMP attack as part of information or cyber warfare and thus deserves the highest priority as the most likely kind of future warfare. He says that China could use a low-yield nuclear weapon at high altitudes to generate a HEMP attack that would devastate unshielded electronics.
Pry notes that Chinese military writings have several references to launching HEMP attacks against the US, with China aiming to use HEMP weapons offensively while also defending against them. He also says that China’s military doctrine closely associates cyber-attacks with nuclear HEMP attacks as part of combined operation Total Information Warfare.
LJ Eads and other writers note in a September 2023 report by the CCP BioThreats Initiative (CCP BTI) that the defense sector is undergoing a significant transformation due to the integration of AI, big data and cloud computing capabilities, predominantly the role of EMP weapons as a modern countermeasure.
In that direction, Eads and others note that China has made notable strides in EMP weapons technology including high-power pulse sources and military microwave applications.
They mention China’s growing lead in EMP weapons development, noting China’s patent applications in EMP technology have increased significantly since 2006, accounting for 37% of all global applications and a leading 124 patents focused on high-power microwave technology.
In October 2022, Asia Times reported that China is looking into using nuclear weapons to destroy near-earth orbit satellite constellations such as Starlink, with researchers from the Xian-based Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology claiming to have developed a model evaluating the performance of nuclear anti-satellite weapons at different altitudes and yields.
Their findings show that a 10-megaton warhead could destroy satellites at an atmospheric near-space altitude of 80 kilometers and cause satellite failures and damage.
Conventional anti-satellite weapons can only target a limited number of satellites, but a nuclear controlled explosion could destroy multiple satellites in one attack. The simulation shows the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a HEMP attack that disables satellites, warships and power grids.
Moreover, in September 2021, Asia Times reported that China had developed a hypersonic missile that could generate an EMP that instantly damages communication and power lines, crippling a population within seconds.
With a range of 3,000 kilometers, the new missile would stay within the earth’s atmosphere to dodge space-based early warning systems. Once over the target area, a chemical explosion could be triggered that would compress an electrically charged magnet known as a “flux compression generator,” converting the shock energy to short but extremely powerful EMPs.
Engineering scientist Sun Zheng and his co-researchers claim that it can release 95% of the energy in just 10 seconds, suitable for instantaneous discharge to cause EMP damage.
This weapon would cause the effective burnout of critical electronic devices in the target information network within a range of two kilometers. Compared to other non-nuclear EMP bombs, the weapon would have no batteries.
All told, Taiwan has good reason to harden its defenses against a potential Chinese HEMP attack, as the latter has already simulated using such weapons in a potential forcible seizure of the self-governing island without crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.
A declassified 2005 US National Ground Intelligence Report says that China could favor such an asymmetric response against superior US forces in a Taiwan conflict because it would not inflict any damage to living organisms while at the same time disabling Taiwan’s military and dissuading US carrier battlegroups from intervening .
It goes on to say that a Chinese nuclear HEMP attack would minimize military casualties among Taiwanese and US forces, thus potentially reducing the hostility of the Taiwanese people over a forced “reunification” with the mainland while minimizing the risk of US nuclear retaliation.