File photo – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military drill between Korean People’s Army (KPA) Large Combined Unit 526 and KPA Combined Unit 478 at an undisclosed location in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang October 24, 2014. (REUTERS/KCNA)
In an instant, the entire country of North Korea would blackout … such is the power of new bombs under development in South Korea.
South Korea has announced it is building “blackout bombs.” And by doing so, the country has sent a clear message to North Korea that it has the power to “turn off the lights” throughout the country whenever South Korea chooses.
North Korea would be paralyzed. Electrical power plants would suddenly stop. Everything depending on electricity would instantly be shut off.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un would be cut off from his population and no longer able to communicate with his citizens since television and radio would be offline.
Paralyze North Korea
Without electricity, North Korean leadership, government and military would be instantly and utterly crippled.
For the North Korean military, this weapon would mean things like air defenses, radar, communication systems, transportation and much more would be unusable. There would be no military or government computers, no email and no way to transmit secure military communication.
With the runway lights shut off, it would make it very difficult for the North Korean military to mount an air force response. Hospitals, military and civilian alike, would be without critical power and rely on back-up generators – if they have them.
‘Lights Out’ for the North Korean population
This sort of bomb would have widespread devastating effects on the North Korean population.
In modern life, many things rely on electricity. North Koreans would have no electricity, no lights, no water purification, no sewage management and with the looming freezing temperatures of winter … they would have no heating.
South Korea’s Agency for Defence Development has obtained the necessary ingredients and technologies to make these graphite bombs and is ready to develop them, Yonhap news agency reported. These bombs will be one element of the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike program.
So what is a blackout bomb?
Blackout bombs are graphite bombs – they are also sometimes called “soft bombs” because they are non-lethal weapons that target electricity supply, not humans.
The electricity attack system is used to shut down an enemy’s power supply. Once unleashed, the bombs can instantly paralyze an enemy’s regime.
Making Kim Jong Un look powerless to his people
These graphite bombs have simply enormous impact.
In general, there is no real material damage. Rather than blow things up, graphite bombs short circuit the targets.
But the impact of a country suddenly going dark can be very powerful.
And while less visible, but by no means less important, these graphite bomb weapons have a major psychological impact.
Kim Jong Un hardly looks like a powerful leader to his population when another country can choose to turn his nation’s power off whenever they want to or need to.
So while attacking the electrical grid has direct impact on military capabilities, it could also put immediate and intense psychological pressure on North Korea’s leadership and its population.
How does it work?
The bombs rely on the same ingredient as the humble, everyday, ordinary pencil – graphite.
Inside the bomb is graphite filament and graphite is a highly efficient electricity conductor.
Unlike conventional explosives, graphite bombs do not strike the target and blow up. The graphite bomb instead explodes in the air above a power plant.
When it explodes, the graphite filaments are so fine that they seem like a cloud. The bomb unleashes this cloud of graphite particles across the electricity system.
The graphite causes short circuits and electrical discharges, blowing safety devices and burning out essential parts in the electrical supply. The blackout graphite cloud can hit power plants, transformer stations, power lines and more.
The result is darkness. A nation’s electricity suddenly stops without warning.
Is the blackout permanent?
The carbon-graphite particles can be easily brushed away. Short circuits can be removed. Blown switching stations can be replaced. But repairing the system can be costly and take time.
So a blackout is not necessarily permanent if North Korea took action to fix the power.
However, South Korea could just continue to drop graphite bombs so that every time North Korea came close to restoring power or managed to do so, the bombs would flick the nation’s switch and turn off the lights again.
But do they actually work?
Blackout bombs have been used in war already and been very successful.
They were first used by the United States in Iraq during the 1990 Gulf War. They succeeded in disabling about 85 percent of Iraq’s facilities that supplied electricity.
NATO has also deployed graphite bombs. They were used in former Yugoslavia in 1999 where they stopped about 70 percent of the national grid electricity supply.
The American version of the graphite bomb is the BLU-114/B and it works sort of like a cluster bomb. The bomb scatters many soda can-sized canisters that could be described as “sub-munitions.” These canisters spray the fine carbon fiber that cause the short circuits.
The graphite bomb approach dates farther back that the Gulf War. It was under consideration during the Cold War as a possible method to defeat Soviet nuclear power plants.
Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries. Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk” where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.