I really think the threat from ICBM's is receding and that the Return on Investment (ROI) of the Strategic Defense Initiative and its progeny is difficult to justify. But these other applications sound interesting.
The Zeus is actually a solid-state laser developed by the Army to heat up mines, to be able to clear minefields at a distance. In fact, the Zeus was deployed to Afghanistan, and several hundred mines were cleared by the use of this tactical weapon.
There is another [laser weapon] called the THEL, or the Tactical High Energy Laser, that was developed for the Army, and this laser had actually shot down Katyusha rockets in White Sands Missile Range, and after over 30 Katyusha rockets were shot down, they decided to see if they could also shoot down mortars and artillery shells, and they were successful on that. |C|Net|
If this technology turns out to be workable, it could significantly alter the effectiveness, if not the very nature, of counter-insurgency operations.
Mortars have been a highly effective infantry tool for almost a century. The Viet Cong and the Iraqi insurgency use mortars to great effect. Typically a mortar crew lobs three shells and then moves, making it impossible to get a fix on their position or return fire.
But if we could shoot down mortar and artillery rounds in flight...that would be damned impressive.
And if energy weapons can blow up mines underground then couldn't energy weapons detonate or deactivate improvised explosive devices?
The article also talks about the Active Denial System, but the anti-artillery application is much more impressive to me.