The U.S. Pacific Fleet faces a daunting challenge in the East Asian littoral as China gradually expands its military capabilities in pursuit of regional dominance. Because the Chinese military is operating on home turf, it may have a nearly limitless arsenal of cruise and ballistic missiles to expend on anti-access/area-denial missions in the future, whereas U.S. warships will be operating far from home with limited supplies of high-cost defensive missiles. The cost-exchange ratio favors China in future wars unless America’s Navy can find a game-changer to even up the odds. Shipboard lasers may be the answer. The Navy has been experimenting with solid-state lasers capable of defending vessels against attacks by a variety of anti-ship systems, and seems to have concluded they could be a useful supplement to more traditional methods of defense. The lasers only cost about a dollar per shot (versus a million dollars or more for surface-to-air missiles), they have unlimited magazines, they hit targets at the speed of light, and they can be rapidly retargeted. If the lasers can also be scaled up to power levels that are lethal against most threats, they could make the difference between surviving and dying in a future Pacific conflict. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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