Chinese Warship Fires Laser At US Surveillance Plane

via+Voice+of+America

via Voice of America

On Friday, February 17th, the US Navy claims that a Chinese destroyer fired a high-powered laser on an American P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner” over the Philippine Sea, some 600 km from Guam. The incident was not reported by US officials until over a week after the fact.

The laser was detected by a sensor aboard the aircraft, but was unseen by the human eye.

The US Navy claims the act was in violation of two agreements, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and the Memorandum of Understanding, both signed between the US and Chinese navies. The two crafts were also in international waters, the US Navy claims.

In their statement, the US Navy warned that “Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.”

U.S. Navy aircraft and ships will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

— US Navy Official Statement

Lasers have been playing an increasingly important role in modern warfare, notably in their use as tools for designating targets for laser guided weapons in handheld equipment and aboard military vehicles. However, their primitiveness compared to that of their science fiction counterparts relegates their role on board ships to that of tracking targets and the destruction or incapacitation of small craft, such as unarmored boats, missiles, and planes. No laser exists as of yet capable of penetrating the hull of a warship.

With both Beijing and Washington enacting more assertive measures to exert their influence over the hotly-contested South China Sea, it isn’t likely that this is an isolated incident. Many US officials, notably US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense, have warned of China’s accelerating technological capabilities. Secretary Pompeo wrote in an op-ed for Politico:

“With 5G capabilities, the CCP could use Huawei or ZTE’s access to steal private or proprietary information or use ‘kill switches’ to disrupt critical future applications like electrical grids and telesurgery centers. And one only needs to look at the CCP’s extensive human rights abuses in Xinjiang … to see how it is using technology for mass repression,”

Secretary Esper also warned that “The PRC seeks to undermine and subvert this system, the same one that allowed them to rise and become what they are today,”.

A similar incident took place in 2018 when China denied American accusations of firing military-grade lasers at an American C-130 plane over Djibouti.