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A Chinese Navy destroyer has recently hit a United States Navy maritime patrol aircraft with a “weapons-grade laser”. The US Navy has characterized the incident as “unsafe and unprofessional”. The incident occurred about two weeks ago but was only announced to the public on February 28.
The laser fired was detected by sensors aboard the US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft. No one onboard the aircraft was hurt.
Stripes.com reports that the incident took place in the Philippine Sea, about 380 miles west of Guam. “The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A,” the US Navy stated. “Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.”
This is not the first time that US forces have been attacked by lasers near Chinese forces. Two years ago, a laser fired from nearby China’s Djibouti military base struck the cockpit of an American C-130 Hercules aircraft, causing minor eye injuries. Popularmechanics.com reports that the incident could not be directly traced to Chinese military forces.
In contrast to the Djibouti laser attack, the recent Philippine Sea incident is the first confirmed case that Chinese forces have directly attacked the US or allied forces with a laser system.
The type of laser used in the attack is not completely certain. Chinese warships were not previously known to be armed with weapons-grade lasers, although it is known that most navies around the world are moving in the direction of directed energy weapons. A more powerful laser could damage sensors onboard the P-8A, damage the aircraft’s airframe, or injure aircrew.
The P-8A Poseidon is based on the airframe of the Boeing 737-800 and is used as a maritime patrol aircraft. It has been developed to patrol vast sections of ocean, conduct reconnaissance and intelligence missions, and is capable of firing anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles and torpedoes, respectively. The P-8A likely flew within visual range of the Chinese warship to gather intel when it was attacked.