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The best-known electromagnetic pulse source is a nuclear weapon detonated high above the target in the atmosphere. Today, smaller, non-nuclear weapons can generate EMP, allowing for its tactical application without the devastation and long-lasting effects of nuclear weapons and radiation. Non-nuclear devices also make the use of EMP weapons politically preferable to atomic weapons. A large scale EMP effect can be produced by a single nuclear explosion detonated high in the atmosphere. This method is referred to as High-Altitude EMP (HEMP).

Russian military doctrine, because HEMP attacks electronics, categorizes nuclear HEMP attack as a dimension of Information Warfare, Electronic Warfare and Cyber Warfare, which are modes of warfare operating within the electromagnetic spectrum. “Super-EMP is a…first-strike weapon,” according to Aleksey Vaschenko, who describes Russian nuclear weapons specially designed to make extraordinarily powerful HEMP fields as Russia’s means for defeating the United States. Hypersonic vehicles are potentially a new avenue for surprise HEMP attack, flying at 50-100 kilometers altitude: the optimum height-of-burst for Super-EMP warheads.