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Defense secretary raises concern over Chinese laser targeting in Pacific

  • COURTESY U.S. NAVY
                                A P-8A Poseidon Aircraft assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 comes in for a landing at Naval Air Station Sigonella in February.

    COURTESY U.S. NAVY

    A P-8A Poseidon Aircraft assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 comes in for a landing at Naval Air Station Sigonella in February.

As militaries increasingly adapt lasers to warfare, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “raised concern” with China’s minister of national defense over the Asian power’s recent targeting of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon with a weapons-grade laser while the maritime patrol aircraft flew in international airspace 380 miles west of Guam, the Pentagon said today.

“The incident underscores the need for the two militaries to enhance bilateral crisis communication mechanisms to ensure incidents like this do not escalate or lead to miscalculation,” according to the Pentagon statement.

Esper spoke Tuesday with Gen. Wei Fenghe about the Feb. 17 incident in which the U.S. aircraft was lased by People’s Republic of China destroyer 161.

“Secretary Esper called on the People’s Liberation Army to conduct itself safely and professionally in accordance with bilateral agreements and international standards of safety at sea,” the Pentagon said.

The Chinese navy destroyer’s actions were “unsafe and unprofessional,” U.S. Pacific Fleet headquartered at Pearl Harbor said in a release on Feb. 27.

The action violated the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chance of an incident at sea, Pacific Fleet said.

“CUES specifically addresses the use of lasers that could cause harm to personnel or damage to equipment. The destroyer’s actions were also inconsistent with a memorandum of understanding between U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of the PRC regarding rules of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters,” according to the U.S. Navy.

The Navy said the Chinese 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, the Navy said.

The Navy posted to Instagram an image of a laser light show next to a spot identified on a Chinese fortified island in the South China Sea and said, “You don’t want to play laser tag with us.”

The P-8A is based out of Jacksonville, Fla., and is forward-deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.

Australian navy helicopter pilots were hit by lasers last year that may have been deployed by China’s maritime militia while an Australian warship was operating in the contested South China Sea.

The U.S. Navy announced last month that it had installed the first Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy, or ODIN, a laser weapon system that allows a ship to counter unmanned aerial systems, on the San Diego-based destroyer USS Dewey.

The Navy said it will be able to rapidly deploy the new capability to the Navy’s surface force to combat increasing drone threats.

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