Australia accuses China of using ‘military-grade’ lasers against P-8A aircraft

MELBOURNE, Australia – Australia has accused a Chinese vessel of shining a “military-grade” laser at one of its P-8A Poseidon multirole aircraft as it flew over the northern Pacific Ocean.

The Australian Defense Department said the incident occurred after a pair of Chinese military ships were encountered by a Royal Australian Navy frigate in the Makassar Strait on 11 February and then again in The Arafura Sea by a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A on 12 February. .

A special task force of the People’s Liberation Army Navy – consisting of the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Hefei and the Type 071 amphibious dock Jinggangshan – was spotted in the Arafura Sea on five separate occasions by drones. P-8 aircraft, Australian patrol boats and a coast-based military team based in Australia, according to a ministry news release.

It was the fourth encounter, on the afternoon of February 17, when one of the Chinese ships was said to have used a military-grade laser to illuminate a P-8A. It is not clear which laser device was apparently used, although it could have been an onboard laser locator or a laser rangefinder.

The incident occurred at -10.0666667, 136.0113888888889, according to Australia, which would place it in its exclusive economic zone 430 miles northeast of the northern Australian city of Darwin and 65 miles from the national coast.

The PLAN ships were en route to the east while in the Arafura Sea, transiting through the Torres Strait on the morning of 18 February and then entering the Coral Sea.

Australia’s Ministry of Defense condemned what it called “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct”, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison called China’s alleged action “dangerous and reckless against the with a professional naval force”. He has called for an investigation into the incident.

While the use of a laser is unlikely to cause physical damage to the aircraft, the intensity of the beam can distract pilots or cause injury to their eyes.

China said the PLAN ships maintain “safe, standardized and professional operations, in accordance with international laws and practices”. It also accused the Australian P-8A aircraft of “malicious and provocative actions”.

A report released by China’s Ministry of National Defense said the P-8A flew “very close” to the PLAN ships, although it acknowledged that the Australian plane was no more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the ships. mile).

It also said the plane, which can be used to hunt submarines and carry out maritime area awareness missions, had dropped a buoy near the ship. China also accused Australia of deliberately spreading false information and making false accusations.

China also released photos of the P-8A as a small speck of light in the distance and what it believes to be a swimming buoy dropped by the plane.

Australia on Tuesday released more details of the apparent laser encounter, confirming that its P-8A was no more than 2.5 miles from the Chinese vessel. The government said the plane was 4.8 miles from the ships and was flying at an altitude of 1,500 meters when hit by the laser. It also confirmed the sonobu crash but only after the laser incident, adding that the buoys were dropped in front of the vessel and did not pose a safety hazard.

Kevin Noonan, a former sensor operator on the US Navy’s S-3 Viking anti-submarine aircraft, told Defense News that the item in the Chinese-published photo appears to show a buoy and antenna assembly of the US Navy. a swimming buoy. He added that it would not normally be a danger unless an attempt is made to retrieve it.

Two years ago, the US also accused the PLAN of firing a laser at one of its Poseidon planes over the Pacific Ocean. China denied that, saying the plane circled at low altitude on board its ship despite repeated warnings.

In 2019, Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots reported being hit by a laser while exercising in the South China Sea, forcing them to land as a precaution. In 2018, the US officially filed a complaint with the Chinese government about the use of a high-altitude laser near a military base in Djibouti to target an aircraft and cause minor injuries to two US pilots.

Tensions are rising especially in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims almost all of its sovereignty, while the United States and its allies insist on freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mike Yeo is Defense News’ Asia correspondent. He wrote his first defense-related journal article in 1998 before pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. After a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for a number of media outlets. Australia accuses China of using ‘military-grade’ lasers against P-8A aircraft

Jake Nichol

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