NEWS | Oct. 1, 2020

Defense against electromagnetic pulse priority for SA-EMD

By Lori A. Bultman 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Imagine waking up one morning with no electricity, no cell service, and no chance of them returning for months. That is the potential nightmare of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, whether naturally occurring or man-made. 

The San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense, or SA-EMD, and the Joint Base San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative, JBSA-EDI, through a historic public-private partnership of more than 350 experts representing over 75 local, state, national, civilian and military organizations, are working to deter such a scenario, or at least ensure a quick recovery. 

The groups met virtually Sept. 29 for their quarterly gathering to discuss the initiatives of 5G development, grid resiliency, and recovery from a long-term power outage.  

One featured speaker on the agenda was Davidson Scott, representing the Electric Infrastructure Security Council. He discussed the implementation of EMP protections in Israel, the importance of shielding and creating redundant resources, and the necessity of having backup capabilities.  

Scott detailed the use of resilient enclaves, geographically homogenous areas within a post-EMP event where power can be restored, maintained and managed so critical resources can be supplied with electrical power - an option that mirrors JBSA’s requirements, he said. 

During his presentation, Scott also discussed the criticality of communications in EMP defense. 

“It all gets tied together through a communications network, and we look for ways to facilitate resiliency in communications,” he said, noting that building survivable emergency communications is essential to any EMP defense plan.   

San Antonio and JBSA are taking a lead role in military use of 5G technology. So much so that JBSA was selected as a 5G experimentation site by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Experimentation.  

Experiments will be performed locally in two areas, on the DOD 5G Core Security Experimentation Network for the Air Force, and on Augmented Reality Support for Medical Training and Telemedicine for the Army and Air Force. 

“When you look at the DOD’s portfolio for 5G, we are the largest experimentation site,” said Michael Lovell, executive director of the JBSA-EDI and 5G program executive.  

Lovell said SA-EMD has a robust board and group of advisors from academia, research and technology fields, building the future of 5G for civilian and military use in the region.  

“We put a vision out there early on. We want to be a leader in 5G development and applications to enable mission partner success,” he said, adding that the steering group met 13 times this quarter alone.  

The 5G initiative also recently acquired a 28,500-square-foot facility near Brooke Army Medical Center for experimentation activities, Lovell said.  

“We are working to accelerate, operate through and innovate 5G technology,” Lovell said. "It is a game-changing technology, and we want to make sure, through our efforts, the DOD has the ability to utilize that rapidly.”  

The DOD is also evaluating options for accelerating 5G and spectrum sharing capabilities, announcing Sept. 18 they are seeking information on innovative solutions and alternative approaches.  

The request, made through the Defense Information Systems Agency, solidifies DOD’s commitment to partnering with industry so experts may evaluate all options regarding Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, ensuring the greatest effective and efficient use of the DOD’s spectrum for training, readiness, and lethality, the same goals as the JBSA-EDI and SA-EMD.  

Lovel said several of the 5G experiments in San Antonio will involve the critical fields of telemedicine and medical training.  

“Mobile medic is the first telemedicine experiment that will be initiated, and it should be a quick win for the JBSA-EDI," Lovell said. “Mobile medic is ready for 5G, and we have solutions we are in the planning concepts for. 

“These are the types of applications that will save lives, getting the best of technology and the best reach back support to save that life,” he said.  

Robotics, remote surgery, augmented reality and training are other 5G experiments that will take place through the JBSA-EDI at the new facility.    

The SA-EMD's other efforts to mitigate and prepare for a potential electromagnetic pulse have also not gone unnoticed, as apparent by their selection as EMP and resiliency pilot tests by the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security.  

A $5 million grant has also been awarded to SA-EMD by the State of Texas to harden all substations providing power to major JBSA installations, protecting them from physical threats such as a sniper, bombing or intrusion. 

The project officer for the JBSA-EDI, Lt. Col. Edward Stamper, contributed to discussion at the meeting by detailing progress on Circuit One, which is projected to be the country’s first EMP hardened commercial circuit supporting multiple military operations.  

“Department of Defense Nuclear Matters is partnering with us to do the analysis and EMP hardening of aircraft fuel operations on JBSA,” he said. “We will continue to harden critical power stations and transformers, with the assistance of the Department of Energy, CPS, and others, to enable power sustainability post-EMP.” 

Stamper noted that community involvement will be key to accomplishing the SA-EMD and JBSA-EDI missions.  

"As we developed a strategy to accomplish the mission of making it possible for JBSA to continue operations in a post EMP environment, we realized that military readiness is enabled by community resilience,” he said.  

“It’s clear the public-private partnership is making great strides in building resiliency against an EMP,” said Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, 502d Air Base Wing and JBSA commander. “The collaborative efforts between the San Antonio-EMD and JBSA have put us on the path to EMP resiliency, ensuring essential military operations are able to maintain a constant state of readiness should such an event occur.”