A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1B interceptor missile is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the mid-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo)
A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1B interceptor missile is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the mid-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo)

By John Thorne – The recent chemical weapons attack in Syria serves as a horrible reminder of the nature of modern warfare. The major threat to global security is now radical actors with access to weapons of mass destruction, like these chemical agents and the kind of nuclear missiles under development in North Korea and Iran.

Rogue governments and terrorist groups have already demonstrated a clear desire to develop such weapons and launch them against the United States and her allies. We have to answer this mounting threat.

Fortunately, there is a technology proven capable of doing just that. It’s missile defense. This technology is rapidly advancing and has already proven effective at countering a broad variety of ballistic ordinance.

When President Reagan unveiled his vision of a missile defense shield a generation ago, many derided the idea as science fiction. “Star Wars” quickly became a ubiquitous derogatory catch phrase. Yet in the decades since, American scientists have demonstrated definitively that missile defense can be a practical reality. We now have the sophisticated technologies needed to effectively identify and take down incoming missile threats.

Indeed, just this February, United States military personnel successfully tested new shield technologies at an Israeli range over the Mediterranean Sea. And in May, U.S. sailors successfully intercepted a target over the Pacific Ocean using a cutting-edge shield system called “Aegis.”

Defense officials have also completed a successful test of a three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. During the test, the system performed precisely as planned, effectively deploying an anti-ordinance interceptor to a designated point in space.

These capabilities are precisely what America needs to counter the major threats on the international scene.

For instance, North Korea remains undeterred in its push for long-range missiles, routinely disregarding its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions. Just this summer, Pyongyang broke a United Nations arms embargo by attempting to ship missile radar systems from Cuba through the Panama Canal.

North Korea has engaged in provocative missile tests over the Pacific. Evidence indicates it has a  small but growing nuclear arsenal and active programs to develop it further.

Iran is also well on its way to developing a long-range missile threat. The clerical leaders who run the country’s government are determined to pursue a nuclear weapon. And they are working diligently to improve their already considerable missile capabilities. Iran’s virulent rhetoric directed at Israel is especially worrying, but the problem is hardly confined to the Middle East. Intelligence estimates suggest that Iran is just a few short years away from the capacity to hit targets in Europe.

America’s missile shield technologies can and should play an important role defending against these dangerous rogue agents. Indeed, our public officials have already started to deploy missile defense systems to areas of major security importance.

In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to deploy 14 more ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California to counter the North Korean threat.

The U.S. territory of Guam, home to more than 150,000 American citizens as well as critical U.S. military bases, is closer to North Korea than San Francisco is to Washington, DC. In April, a new interceptor system was positioned there as well to defend against the rogue regime.

Missile defense has gone from a dream to firm reality. We need to continue to invest in these technologies. They are bearing fruit just when we’re really beginning to need it. And they can play a vital role in America’s defense in the future.

John Thorne is a senior consultant at Diligent Innovations, a defense and national security strategy consulting firm in Washington, DC. Previously, he spent 13 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense.

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