National Energy Resiliency During The War: Case Study

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Following the massive attack on Ukrainian power plants by the Russian forces in October 2022, it is important to head back to similar cases during the previous wars and look for some tips that can ensure the resiliency of the national energy system despite such severe attacks. 

This article focuses on the effectiveness of the attacks on the electric power plants during different military operations, as well as on the energy resiliency measures that can be applied on the national level. 

The analysis is based on the cases of different countries during wars, such as WWII (cases of Germany and Japan), the Korean War (case of North Korea), the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm (case of Iraq), and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Even though these wars are quite different innately, all of them have a mutual trait, attacks on the national energy systems. 

There are four main objectives of the attacks on the power grid set by militaries, such as:

Hindering war production was the only effect that has been empirically proven by several countries’ cases, while the other effects were only observed in theory. 


The effects of attacks on power systems can be divided into two broad categories: military and civilian. 


Components of any national electric power system mainly include: 

  • generation, 
  • transmission, 
  • distribution and 
  • control. 

Generation is the heart of the electrical system that consists of turbines and generators that produce electricity. It can be attacked by hitting on the buildings that contain the main components like turbines and generators. Generation systems can be protected from potential attacks by using multiple sources of generation to diversify the risks and air defense systems. 

The transmission system delivers power from the generators to the distribution networks. It can be attacked and severely damaged by attacking step-up transformers, as the attack on them is equivalent to attacking the generation facility. The primary resiliency measure that can be applied to the transmission facility is building an underground system that would prevent attacks on the step-up transformers. 

The distribution network begins at the step-down transformer station that reduces the voltage used in the transmission to a lower voltage suitable for dissemination to the various users. The distribution system is not normally an attractive target for air attack, since step-down transformer stations are smaller and more difficult to attack than the step-up transformer facilities at the power plants. 

Control systems are perhaps the most variable part of a power system. They may be automated by computers or rely on manual operations for transferring power. The results of a possible attack on the control systems are difficult to forecast; if the system cannot transfer power, then it is a moot point, as there would be nothing to control. A tightly interconnected system with the ability to transfer power from one area to another would improve the resiliency of the control system. 

Case 1: WWII – Germany (1939-1945)

The first case to be observed is the case of Germany during WWII.

The two main problems in attacking the electric power system were: 

  • destroying the hydroelectric dams and 
  • hitting the small power & transformer stations. 

It was estimated that destroying 50 electric power plants would eliminate nearly 40% of the German electric generating capacity. As expected, 17 hits will guarantee the destruction of any plant, despite the small size of the targets.

Disruption of a major portion of the electric system of Germany was named a number one priority, attacking this system would be a second priority only to what the planners called “the intermediate objective of overriding importance – gaining air superiority”. 

The negative impact was expected in the three aspects, such as residential, industrial, and military. Automobile production, the cold storage of food, and urban transportation were the areas chosen for their impact on lowering civilian morale. Among the industrial facilities, aircraft, ships, aluminum, synthetic rubber, and armaments suffered the most, as they were highly dependent on electricity. From the side of the military, the new air strategy focused less on affecting civilian morale and war production, and more on the impact of bombing on the fielded military forces of Germany. 

As an outcome of the case, the US failed to gain air superiority under the initial plan, for this reason, the plan was reviewed a year after. The new plan put less emphasis on hitting economic targets like electricity and more on traditional military targets such as the transportation system. Since there was no analysis of the effects of the attacks, despite the considerable information on the supply of electric power, attacking the electric stations was no longer a top priority. 

Case 2: WWII – Japan (1939-1945)

During WWII, Japan has also been viewed as the potential target for an attack on the national energy systems; however, it was not attacked in the end.

It was expected that Japan would experience a long-term weakening because of large-scale attacks on the system. Because of their location, number, and construction, hydroelectric dams presented poor targets for strategic bombing. 

The short-term outcome of the potential attacks was rather unexpected due to the lack of intelligence service in Japan before 1943. It is important to understand the specifics of the Japanese power grid to understand the reasons for future outcomes. The country’s main renewable energy source is hydroelectricity, and the vast majority of the power plants in Japan during WWII were hydroelectric. 

The Japanese obtained the bulk of their power from a large number of small hydroelectric dams. All dams were highly dispersed and spread all across the country, which made the attack on the stations more difficult. 

As an outcome, the Japanese electrical power system was not protected from potential attacks during the strategic bombing of WWII. However, it was concluded that electrical power is not an attractive target for strategic bombing of Japan due to the high dispersion of the dams & their location as well as the severe lack of intelligence service in Japan, hence poor preparation. 

Case 3: The Korean War (1950-1953)

The Korean War was fought between North Korea and South Korea from 1950 to 1953.

The main feature of the plan was the proposal to use massive fleets of heavy bombers to attack economic targets, the choke points of the Axis industry.  In 1952, the Suiho Power Plant located in North Korea was attacked by United Nations Command air forces.

The objectives of the attack were: 

  • to destruct the plant, 
  • to lower North Korean morale by putting out lights, 
  • to bring some electrically powered industries to a halt, and 
  • to eliminate most of the surplus power being exported. 

In terms of characteristics, Suiho was the largest hydroelectric power plant in the Orient, providing for much of western North Korea, Port Arthur, and Dairen regions of northeast China. Surplus power generation was exported. 

As an outcome, the North Koreans obtained most of their material support outside the country, in russia and China, and the elimination of electricity did little to affect military operations by hampering war production. 

The attacks failed in their fundamental purpose of pressuring the North Koreans to sign a peace accord. The “Air Pressure Strategy” continued for over a year after these attacks, despite the increased costs and concomitant impact on production. 

Case 4: The Vietnam War (1955-1975)

In 1967, the North Vietnamese Power Grid was attacked during both the Rolling Thunder and Linebacker bombing efforts.

The Rolling Thunder bombing campaign ended in October 1968 and the strikes on the North Viet­namese power system did not take place again until April 1972 with the Linebacker-I bombing campaign. 

The Rolling Thunder air campaign was an attempt to fulfill a variety of political objectives through the bombardment of North Vietnam.

It began in 1965; however, the systematic attacks started in 1967. As a result, 14 of 22 electrical power targets were attacked, 85% of generating capacity was destroyed and the transmission network was damaged.

Finally, it led to the loss of the central power system and the degradation of industrial production. However, North Vietnam’s ability to continue the war was not reduced thanks to external aid and support. The first government’s reaction was to ensure that the priority consumers still had electricity. A decline in industrial capacity was compensated by support from the Soviet Union and China – which was crucial in allowing North Vietnam to continue the war, although it did increase their dependency on these outside powers. 

The Linebacker bombing campaign focused on interdiction; the primary air tasks were reducing the flow of supplies into North Vietnam.  As part of the plan, they attacked Lang Chi, the largest known power plant there, which was supplying 75% of industry power.

These attacks, coupled with the damage done during Linebacker I, eliminated almost 90 percent of the generating capacity in North Vietnam. The attacks on electric power reduced the amount of operational generating capacity from 115,000 kilowatts to 29,000.

The peace agreement was signed by the Hanoi government in 1973; however, it did not happen due to attacks on the power plants. 

Case 5: Iraq – Operation Desert Storm (1991)

Operation Desert Storm, which took place in 1991, was a military operation to expel occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which Iraq had invaded and annexed months earlier.

Electric power was a high-priority target in Operation Desert Storm.  

The primary purpose of the bombing was:

  • to induce strategic paralysis in the leadership in Baghdad, and 
  • to have a psychological impact on Iraqi society. 

The focus of these attacks was on military objects. In terms of characteristics, before the Gulf War, Iraq had a very modern & concentrated electrical power system. 

The majority of power came from 19 generating stations, which had a capacity of 9,500 megawatts. One unusual feature of the system was a large amount of reserve capacity available; in 1990, the peak load only accounted for slightly more than 50 percent of the available capacity.

Desert Storm attacks virtually eliminated any ability of the Iraqi national power system to generate or transfer power by reducing the generating capacity to less than 300 megawatts, and the transmission ability to 1/4 of the pre-war capability. 

Consequently, despite the destruction of the electrical power system, at least some high-priority consumers had access to electricity. The synergistic effects of losing primary electrical power sources in the first few days of the war helped to reduce Iraq’s ability to respond to coalition attacks.

The negative political backlash of the civilian effects was quite severe, including the loss of power to hospitals, the breakdown of water purification systems, and damage to sewage systems, which then contaminated the water supply. 

Case 6: Ukraine – Russian terrorist attacks (2022)

The main aggressor’s expectations on attacking the electrical power plants were to weaken the Ukrainian ability to produce military goods, to damage the economy, even more, to push on Ukrainian politicians to stop the war (in other words, surrender), to push on Ukrainians to stop the war, and to push on the politicians as a whole nation. 

In fact, Russian terrorist attacks targeted Ukrainian energy and critical infrastructure.

  • As of October 21, nearly 50% of Ukraine’s thermal power plants were hit and 30-40% of the national energy infrastructure was destroyed.
  • Nearly 500 objects were damaged because of the attack, incl. over 10 TPPs and over 30 power substations.
  • Nearly 300 direct hits on objects were fixed, and the hits are still ongoing.
  • Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant which generates nearly a third of the country’s energy remains occupied.
  • Nearly 90% was lost in wind power plants and 40-45% was lost in solar energy. 

As an outcome, Russia proved again to be a terrorist state, which was officially confirmed by a few EU member countries and The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. 

Though Ukrainians voluntarily decreased their consumption of electricity, massive scheduled blackouts are taking place all around the country. Hence, it led to increased demand for power banks and autonomic or home generators and the introduction of flexible hours schedules by employees with a hybrid format of work. 

Ukraine is initially considering electricity import from the EU after stopping export. From the side of the civilian morale, the will to defeat Russia and get over its attacks has only strengthened. 


Upon the analysis provided in the article, we have outlined the practical implications to maximize the resiliency of the national energy system.

They include the following three key steps. 

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