Blackout War - A Revolution in Strategic Imagination
Blackout War - A Revolution in Strategic Imagination

"I am going to talk about a dimension of the cyber threat that is not usually considered a cyber threat in Western doctrine, but is in the playbooks for an Information Warfare Operation of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran," so testified Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, before the U.S. Congress on May 21, 2013, "These potential adversaries in their military doctrines include as a dimension of cyber warfare a wide spectrum of operations beyond computer viruses, including sabotage and kinetic attacks, up to and including nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack."

A Failure Of Strategic Imagination

Iran, North Korea, China and Russia in their military doctrines advocate using combined attacks by EMP, cyber and sabotage against electric grids and other civilian critical infrastructures as a "Revolution in Military Affairs" that could prove decisive in war, enabling a small power to surprise and humble a great power, much as Nazi Germany nearly conquered the western democracies in World War II by the surprise use of the "Blitzkrieg" ("Lightning War") strategy.

A Defense Science Board study Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat (January 2013) equates an all-out cyber attack on the United States with the consequences of a nuclear attack, and concludes that a nuclear response is justified to deter or retaliate for cyber warfare:  "While the manifestation of a nuclear and cyber attack are very different, in the end, the existential impact to the United States is the same."

The DSB study likewise concludes that cyber warfare is an existential threat not because of computer viruses alone:  "...the cyber threat is serious and the United States cannot be confident that our critical Information Technology (IT) systems will work under attack from a sophisticated and well resourced opponent utilizing cyber capabilities in combination with all of their military and intelligence capabilities (a 'full spectrum' adversary)."

The Congressional EMP Commission found that the military doctrines of potential adversaries for Information Warfare or Cyber Warfare include, not only computer viruses and hacking, but nuclear EMP attack.

Dangerously for the West, U.S. political and military leaders continue to think of cyber threats narrowly, as largely or entirely limited to hacking and computer bugs.  This failure of strategic imagination is a major catastrophe in the making.  It is akin to the blindness that afflicted nearly everyone in the West, and made possible World War II, from a failure of strategic imagination among most Western elites to foresee and understand Nazi Germany's Blitzkrieg strategy. 

A Revolution in Military Affairs

Like the Nazis, they have planned and practiced the New Blitzkrieg in secret, experimenting with bits and pieces to keep a low profile, intending, when zero hour comes, that we will be surprised.
The Blitzkrieg revolutionized warfare by using the new technologies of airpower, armored divisions, and mobile infantry and artillery in closely coordinated combined arms operations to rapidly outmaneuver and overwhelm with superior firepower the antiquated Western strategy, tactics and technologies of static trench warfare.  Nazi Germany developed the Blitzkrieg secretly in experiments, during military exercises, and tested the new strategy in a low profile way during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to keep the West in the dark.

Winston Churchill, Major General J.F.C. Fuller and a few others saw the Blitzkrieg coming, but their warnings were ignored.  When Nazi Germany sprang the Blitzkrieg on their unprepared victims in 1939-1941, they routed the Allies and nearly won World War II.

The Blitzkrieg is an example of a "Revolution in Military Affairs"--an epoch shattering moment in history when new military technology and strategy inflicts such decisive defeat that it threatens to overthrow and replace one civilization with another.

Are potential adversaries experimenting with another Revolution in Military Affairs comprising the use of cyber bugs, physical sabotage, and nuclear EMP attack in combination to wage what might be called a "Blackout War" against electric grids and other critical infrastructures?  Consider these events of 2013-2014:

--On April 16, 2013, North Korea flew its KSM-3 satellite on the optimum trajectory and altitude to evade U.S. radars and missile defenses and apparently practiced a surprise nuclear EMP attack on the United States.

--On the same day, parties unknown used AK-47s, the favorite assault rifle of rogue states and terrorists, to attack the Metcalf transformer substation that services San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.  Jon Wellinghoff, the former chairman of the U.S. agency responsible for grid security, and the U.S. Navy SEALS warn that Metcalf is probably a dry run for a future large-scale attack on the national electric grid.

--In July 2013, a North Korean freighter that had transited the Gulf of Mexico was discovered, while undergoing inspection in the Panama Canal for smuggling illegal drugs, to have two nuclear capable SA-2 missiles, mounted on their launchers, hidden in the hold under bags of sugar.  Although the missiles were not nuclear armed, the incident demonstrates North Korea's capability to use a freighter in U.S. coastal waters to launch a nuclear EMP attack anonymously, in order to escape U.S. retaliation.

--On October 27, 2013, the Knights Templars, a criminal drug cartel, blacked-out Mexico's Michoacan state and its population of 420,000, so they could terrorize the people and paralyze the police.  The Knights, cloaked by the blackout, entered towns and villages and publicly executed leaders opposed to the drug trade.

--On June 9, 2014, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula used mortars and rockets to destroy transmission towers, plunging into darkness all of Yemen, a country of 16 cities and 24 million people.  It is the

first time in history that terrorists have put an entire nation into blackout.

--In July 2014, according to press reports, a Russian cyber-bug called Dragonfly infected 1,000 electric powerplants in Western Europe and the United States for purposes unknown, possibly to plant logic bombs in powerplant computers to disrupt operations in the future. 

The costly lesson of World War II and the Cold War, that left 100 million dead, is that the United States and the Western democracies cannot be surprised by the next Revolution in Military Affairs--or we risk annihilation.    

The new Revolution in Military Affairs is called many things by many nations.  Russian military doctrine calls it by inconspicuous names, like: Cyber Warfare Operation, Information Warfare, or Electronic Warfare.  Chinese military doctrine calls it all these things and Total Information Warfare.  Some at the U.S. Army War College call the new Revolution in Military Affairs "Cybergeddon."

Unprecedented Threat to Civilization

Here we have called this latest Revolution in Military Affairs the Blackout War, hoping to communicate by this label the nature and gravity of the threat facing the United States and Western Civilization. 

Our potential adversaries have planned and practiced combined operations using computer viruses and hacking, sabotage and kinetic attacks, and nuclear EMP attack to blackout electric grids, collapse critical infrastructures, to defeat--or render extinct--entire nations.            

Like the Nazis, they have planned and practiced the New Blitzkrieg in secret, experimenting with bits and pieces to keep a low profile, intending, when zero hour comes, that we will be surprised.

The Blackout War is potentially the greatest and most decisive Revolution in Military Affairs in history:

--The Blackout War literally strikes with super-lightning and other new technologies  against the technological Achilles Heel of our electronic civilization, and in hours, minutes or seconds could blackout our entire nation, possibly for years, which is really the same as saying possibly forever.

--The Blackout War strikes against the societal Achilles Heel of our civilization, going around our armed forces to attack civilians in the utilities and our families that depend upon them for survival.  Our civilian critical infrastructures are outside of our national security culture, and are the least prepared for the speedy massed onslaught from the best warriors and best technology of the adversary.  It is a mismatch unique in history.

--For the first time in history, the Blackout War enables the least successful society on Earth, like a North Korea that cannot even feed its own people, or even atavistic non-state actors like ISIS or Al Qaeda, to destroy the most successful societies, including the United States.  Retaliation may not even be an option since the U.S. military relies for 99 percent of its electricity for operations and power projection upon the civilian electric grid.

A Blackout War might take advantage of terrestrial or space weather, like a hurricane or geomagnetic storm that naturally stresses the electric grid and other critical infrastructures, followed by cyber attacks, sabotage, radiofrequency weapons, and culminating in a nuclear EMP attack that plunges the entire United States into a protracted blackout, as depicted in the Figure "Blackout War." 

The Congressional EMP Commission estimated that a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill up to 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  

Former CIA Director Woolsey warned Congress, "Our cyber and information warfare doctrines are dangerously blind to the likelihood that a potential adversary making an all-out information warfare campaign designed to cripple U.S. critical infrastructures would include an EMP attack."

Unfortunately, like Churchill's warnings about the impending Nazi Blitzkrieg, few appear to be listening.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, both Congressional Advisory Boards, and served on the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of Apocalypse Unknown: The Struggle To Protect America From An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe and Electric Armageddon, both available from and            

This article also appeared at FamilySecurityMatters and was sent to Arutz Sheva by the writer with a request to post.