SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. government has issued a formal protest to China over a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy destroyer shining a military-grade laser at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft operating in the Philippine Sea last month.
USNI News first reported on Feb. 27 that a Chinese Type 052D or Luyang III-class destroyer, the Hohhot, lased a P-8 on Feb. 17 during operations over international waters and airspace about 380 miles west of Guam. The aircraft that was targeted is part of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45, based in Jacksonville, Fla., and currently forward-deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.
“The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A. Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems,” reads a statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet on the incident, which PACFLT called “unsafe and unprofessional.”
On Monday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday confirmed the incident and said the United States formally protested to China.
“It happened. It’s the first time we saw it happen from that type of PLA ship. We do have protective gear onboard for our pilots, and importantly they’re also trained to deal with it. But I can confirm, it is the first time we saw it. We have, the U.S. government demarched China,” Gilday said while speaking at WEST 2020, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
While this is the first time a Chinese warship has lased a Navy aircraft, it is not the first time the U.S. has demarched China over a lasing incident.
In May 2018, the U.S. government protested numerous incidents of Chinese forces lasing landing aircraft in Djibouti. In one of the instances, two Air Force airmen were slightly injured.
“They are very serious incidents,” then-Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said at the time. “There have been two minor injuries. This activity poses a true … threat to our airmen.”
The U.S. has operated out of Djibouti since 2002, and in 2017 China set up its first overseas military outpost there. As of May 2018, the Pentagon reported that at least two and as many as 10 incidents had occurred where Chinese forces lased landing aircraft in Djibouti.
“The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Notice to Airmen on the danger, telling aircrews to ‘use caution for unauthorized laser activity.’ U.S. officials said the beam is coming from a military grade laser, and that they are confident the Chinese are behind the incidents,” reads a Defense Department story on the lasings.
“Firing lasers at aircraft can blind aircrew members during critical moments of landing. In the incident where the minor injuries occurred, a C-130 was landing at the base when it was painted by a laser beam. The aircraft managed to land safely, and the two aircrew members are recovering, Pentagon officials said.”