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China has aimed lasers at US military aircraft at least 20 times in Pacific, official says

U.S. Navy Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) John Jacob directs an F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) in the East China Sea March 5, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina)
June 22, 2018

U.S. military pilots operating in the Pacific Ocean have been targeted by laser attacks more than 20 times in recent months, a U.S. military official said this week.

The recent laser attacks on aircraft flying over the East China Sea are suspected to come from Chinese personnel, the military official told the Wall Street Journal.

None of the incidents have caused injuries.

Similar incidents occurred against U.S. pilots in Djibouti, and some of those pilots suffered minor eye injuries.

China denied any involvement in the laser attacks, while the U.S. said the attacks came from a nearby Chinese base.

“According to what we have learned from the relevant authorities, the accusations in the relevant reports by U.S. media are totally groundless and purely fabricated,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday.

While military officials aren’t certain the attacks came from Chinese personnel, they would not rule out the possibility that the attacks stemmed from Chinese military sources.

The U.S. military official said the lasers used in the attacks were commercial-grade as opposed to the military-grade lasers used against U.S. pilots in Africa.

The attacks stemmed “from a range of different sources, both ashore and from fishing vessels,” the official said.

In early May, a Pentagon official told the Wall Street Journal that China’s only overseas military base in Djibouti, Africa, has been using high-powered lasers to interfere with U.S. military aircraft from a nearby American base, and they have reportedly been aiming the lasers at U.S. military pilots.

The lasers have caused two minor eye injuries and prompted U.S. officials to issue a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing.

A formal notice was also issued for Airmen “to exercise caution when flying in certain areas in Djibouti,” because of “lasers being directed at U.S. aircraft on a small number of separate occasions over the last few weeks.”

“During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” the notice said.

U.S. military officials stressed the gravity of the situation, stating that such activity can result in major aviation accidents.

Officials confirmed that the State Department has already issued a diplomatic protest with Beijing in an effort to get the Chinese military base to stop the activity.

The Djiboutian government is already on edge with U.S. military options following a series of aviation accidents in the eastern African nation this year.

In early April, a U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jet crashed at the country’s international airport, the same day a Marine Corps CH-53 chopper sustained minor damage while landing in Arta Beach. As a result of the accidents, Djibouti requested that the U.S. temporarily cease aviation activity.

The U.S. military base in Djibouti plays a critical role in the fight against terrorism. Around 4,000 U.S. military personal are stationed at Camp Lemonnier. The base’s proximity to countries like Somalia and Yemen, where the U.S. regularly targets terrorist airstrikes, allows for a strategic advantage.

While U.S. forces have been the greatest influence in the area for some time, China’s recent arrival has caused some concern for U.S. military officials.