The dream of zapping incoming missiles traveling at supersonic speeds into nonexistence is becoming closer to reality as laser science transitions from the laboratory to the field. Research into several different laser technologies is bearing fruit, and soon warfighters and civilians may be protected from threats as simple as mortar rounds or as complex as nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Antimissile capabilities have advanced far beyond the brute-force systems of the 1960s or the science-fictionesque concepts of the 1980s. Decades of research are paying off as effective systems are moving into the field. Once-exotic technologies are poised to change the balance of power between rogue nations exploiting ballistic missile proliferation and the democracies they threaten with missile attack.
A key Pacific ally of the United States has become the first foreign nation to field a sea-based ballistic missile interception system. The technology is a modification of the Aegis air defense weapons system designed to track and destroy short- and intermediate-range missiles. This capability permits Japanese warships to defend their island nation from attack by neighboring states.