News of North Korea’s latest nuclear development, which appears to be a hydrogen bomb estimated to be five to ten times more powerful than any previous nuclear ordnance North Korea possessed, has sent shockwaves around the world.  No longer does Kim merely possess the destructive power of an atom bomb, he now has a thermonuclear city killer – but in all sincerity, that may be the least of our worries.

One of the byproducts of a nuclear reaction is the release of a powerful electromagnetic pulse.  That pulse overloads the circuits inside non-hardened electronic devices, knocking out the power and often damaging those circuits beyond repair.  Of course, the subsequent power outage often goes unnoticed, as the residents of a targeted city try to dig themselves out from the irradiated rubble that was once their homes… but what if a thermonuclear weapon were to detonate high in the atmosphere above us?  Well, then we’re going to notice.

If Kim were to choose to attack the United States, an EMP-based attack would likely be the better option, over a direct nuclear strike.  Concerns about the survival of North Korea’s re-entry vehicles could be mitigated by detonating higher in the atmosphere, and while one thermonuclear warhead could feasibly wipe out the majority of a city, the same warhead could also potentially cripple a far larger swath of the nation.  Kim seems to be well aware of this, as North Korea’s announcement of a successful hydrogen bomb test came coupled with threats of an EMP attack.

So how exactly would such an attack unfold?  It would invariably start with the launch of one of North Korea’s long range ballistic missiles, likely their most successful platform to date, the Hwasong-14 (which goes by the U.S. designation KN-20).  In fact, in order to successfully pull off this attack, North Korea would need to launch a volley of such missiles, as a large percentage of them would likely be intercepted long before they could reach the skies above the U.S.