Going Antiballistic

Five entertaining, if unscientific, takes on missile defense

While Strategic Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sermonizes about space-based weaponry, President Bush has made a missile shield the centerpiece of his defense policy. We find it fitting that these systems, inspired as they are by science fiction, have returned the favor on occasion by spawning their own creative flights of fancy.


The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Tom Clancy. Putnam. $27.95.
Cold Warnographer Tom Clancy delves deeply into the intricacies of missile defense in this 1988 “page-turner.” The CIA’s highest-ranking mole—code-named Cardinal—has gained access to the Kremlin’s plans for a missile-zapping laser that could shift the global balance of power. Unflappable protagonist Jack Ryan globe-trots in pursuit of Cardinal, desperate to reach our man before KGB goons do.

Sega. 1987. (Download at Classicgaming.com)
In this arcade game, you find yourself immersed in the Gipper’s Dream—or is it his nightmare? Controlling an SDI satellite, you must destroy an endless stream of Soviet nukes. In a touch of realism, the satellite proves ineffective against the massive enemy arsenal—and is as apt to crash into space junk as to intercept a warhead.

Colossus: The Forbin Project
Joseph Sargent. Universal. 1970. 100 minutes.
In this missile-defense epic, Dr. Charles Forbin invents a supercomputer—Colossus—to operate U.S. nuclear defenses. But once plugged in, the machine detects its heretofore unknown Soviet counterpart and demands the two systems be networked. The combined computers soon grow so awesomely powerful that the president orders them decoupled. Enraged, Colossus demands to be reconnected, and, as blackmail, launches two missiles. The reconnection is completed, but only in time for Colossus to intercept one of the nukes. Proving the point: Computers don’t stop ballistic missiles; people do.

Star Wars With the Gipper
In this oddly addictive Web game, you’re Ronnie, and Ronnie’s a superhero! Use your laser-beam eyes to destroy the Evil Empire’s war satellites. This game is kinder to Reagan’s pipe dream than Sega’s SDI is: Crippling the Soviets is child’s play, and at each explosion the Stetsoned Gipper lets loose a “Yee-haw!”

Airborne Laser
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. In this honest-to-God Air Force project, a laser will be mounted inside a 747 jumbo jet to fry missiles leaving enemy airspace. If the weapon sounds kooky, the official Web site is all the more so. On the homepage, the airliner’s laser-equipped nose cone tracks your mouse, firing whenever you click. There’s also a collection of technical drawings (above) that suggests the masterwork of a G.I. Joe-addled 13-year-old.