4 The MoD and EMP |
MoD resilience to EMP events
71. We were concerned to establish how resilient
MoD equipment and processes would be against EMP events.
72. Written evidence from the MoD indicates that
there are three main capabilities that rely on space-based assets:
- Satellite communications
(SATCOM). SATCCOM and
data networks enable the command and control of deployed forces
and the timely exploitation and dissemination in intelligences
- Position Navigation and Timing (PNT). Precise
PNT solutions derived from the US Global Positioning System (GPS)
enable the orchestration of complex military operations while
reducing the risk of collateral damage and fratricide.
- Earth Observation (EO).
Earth Observation capabilities (most of which are derived from
allies and commercial providers) provide the necessary strategic
indicators and warnings, and the intelligence to support operational
and tactical planning.
The MoD told us that the majority of these capabilities
are hardened or augmented "to withstand a reasonable worst
case space weather event", and that defence procurement standards
require "appropriate hardening against nuclear weapon effects,
including EMP" but notes that severe space weather or HEMP
"could degrade the ability of [Earth Observation] satellites
to collect and disseminate data in a timely manner".
73. Although the MoD were confident that the
satellite services and the positioning, navigation and Earth observation
systems were reasonably protected, we were worried about other,
terrestrial, equipment. The Minister said that generally defence
equipment was more resilient and hardened than its civilian counterparts
it would be unrealistic, bluntly, to seek to harden
all military assets against a threat of space weather and EMP,
but as the overall likelihood of a severe damaging event is relatively
low in our view, we focus our attention on what we consider to
be a critical subset of systems.
David Ferbrache explained other precautions taken
in case of the failure of equipment:
We also put quite a bit of time and effort into reversion
modes and fall-back. GPS is the classic. It's a military system
anywayUS military satellites. It has a degree of resilience
against a lot of the space weather scenarios we have talked about.
But we also routinely practise reversion modes. So, yes, we do
still train people in maps and compassesgood old-fashioned
navigation. We also train them in how to use inertial navigation
systems, and we routinely practise GPS jamming. As Mr Harvey has
set out, we tend to include electronic warfare routinely in our
exercises and training. We play through a lot of degradation modes
and reversion modes. I am not sanguine; the threat will evolve
74. HEMP is, of course, a different matter from
space weather. David Ferbrache explained that hardening the equipment
was the second line of defence after prevention:
We are very much focused on trying to ensure that
that event does not occur in the first place, which is all about
counter-proliferation action to prevent the acquisition of nuclear
weapons or ballistic missile capabilities. Deterrent capability
is one of the areas that we make absolutely certain is protected
against EMP, in terms of our ability then to retaliate against
such an aggressive act. Then we go into hardening of key strategic
communication systems, too. It is a threat we are keeping a weather
eye on, to use that phrase, because the concern downstream is
that we may well see a proliferation of both nuclear weapons capabilities
and appropriate launch systems.
75. In view of the importance of the nuclear
deterrent, we sought assurance that the Nuclear Firing Chain was
secure. The MoD assured us that:
As part of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent,
the Nuclear Firing Chain is designed and maintained to assure
the UK's ability for retaliatory action should we be subject to
a nuclear attack, and this has been the case since the days of
the Cold War.
The MoD audits the integrity of the Nuclear Firing
Chain regularly and acts to ensure that it maintains the highest
possible standards, but it would not be appropriate to comment
on specific measures here.
76. We note the MoD's assurance
that the Nuclear Firing Chain is designed and maintained to assure
the UK's ability deterrent and retaliatory action should the UK
be subject to a nuclear attack.
Responsibility in the MoD
77. It became clear in the course of our inquiry
that there is some confusion within the MoD as to who has responsibility
for matters relating to resilience to or development of EMP weapons,
nuclear or otherwise. There was some disagreement between them
and the Committee on appropriate witnesses. When we invited the
MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser to give oral evidence to this inquiry
we were told that he had no responsibility in this area,
despite his stated role being to "provide strategic advice
to Defence on science and technology in support of military operations
and future capabilities".
Subsequently, during the oral evidence session, it became clear
that the Minister and Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir
John Beddington, and perhaps even Mark Welland himself, were of
a different view, and that Mr Welland would have been an appropriate
witness. The Minister
apologised for any misunderstanding.
78. EMP disturbances pose a
serious risk, not only to civil infrastructure, but to military
systems and ultimately national security. There must be a clear
line of responsibility within the MoD; an appearance is given
that the MoD is unwilling to take these threats seriously. The
Government must make clear in its response to this Report exactly
where lead responsibility in relation to EMP disturbances lies
within the MoD.
79. We asked the MoD if, when it
acquired information about a particular vulnerability in the wider
infrastructure it passed the information on to those responsible
for civil infrastructure. Mr Harvey said "we do share it
with the rest of government. It is also the case that a lot of
industries will have some direct information coming to them on
Ferbrache added that "we have had a reasonably good understanding
of the effects of EMP for some time and that has been reflected
in a complete suite of defence standards, which are taken up by
respective industries as well".
80. The MoD has access to a
great deal of scientific information regarding nuclear and non-nuclear
EMP devices. While there is an understandable sensitivity to such
information, the MoD must make sure that where security considerations
permit, relevant information is shared with civil infrastructure
providers that may be at risk.
MoD role in responding to an
81. The Ministry of Defence does not expect to
play a primary role in the case of a national EMP event, for instance
in restoring the National Grid. Nonetheless, a severe space weather
or HEMP event is likely to meet the definition of an "emergency"
under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 as "an event or situation
which threatens serious damage to human welfare" or "war
or terrorism which threatens serious damage to security".
In this case, the armed forces might be called upon to assist
as with any other major emergency. Nick Harvey said:
As a national asset, defence would not expect to
be called on, except in the case of very large-scale incidents.
In that sense, if something did kick off, rather as Mr Tesh indicated
earlier, we would expect to be brought into the equation through
the COBR process. The scientific community shares information
across Departments all the time. I am sure that it is keeping
an eye on the evolving picture.
82. The reactive posture described
by the MoD appears somewhat complacent. Prior wargaming and planning
is required to assess the likely involvement of MoD resources
in dealing with the consequences of EMP events.
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Supplementary Memorandum from the Government to the House of Lords,
Science and Technology Committee, Third Report of 2009-10, Setting
priorities for publically funded research, HL 104-II, p 54 Back
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