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US Navy warns China ‘You don’t want to play laser tag with us’ after Chinese destroyer shoots laser at US plane

A P-8A Poseidon conducts flyovers above the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group during exercise Bold Alligator 2012. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel J. Meshel/U.S. Navy)
March 02, 2020

The U.S. Navy offered China a warning after a Feb. 17 incident in which China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy pointed a laser beam at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon and endangered its crew.

In an Instagram post Friday, the U.S. Navy referenced the recent laser incident, which it described as “unsafe and unprofessional” and which violated a 2014 agreement between the U.S. and China to regulate encounters at sea. The U.S. Navy’s social media post came with the warning, “You don’t want to play laser tag with us.”

#ICYMI [in case you missed it] The Chinese Navy recently pointed a laser in an unsafe and unprofessional manner at a #USNavy P-8A flying in airspace above international waters,” the U.S. Navy’s social media post read. “These acts violate the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chance of an incident at sea.”

The P-8A in question is assigned to the VP-45 patrol squadron stationed out of Jacksonville, Fla. and forward deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.

The laser appears to have been fired from a PLA Navy destroyer while the P-8A was flying over international waters approximately 380 miles off the west coast of Guam.

Weapons-grade lasers have the potential to harm flight crews and damage ship and aircraft systems. The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) agreement between China and the U.S. specifically addresses the use of lasers that can harm personnel or damage equipment.

The recent laser attack reportedly did not harm any of the crew aboard the U.S. Navy plane, but was detected by a sensor on the plane. Pacific Fleet spokesperson Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr told Navy Times the P-8 was able to land safely at Kadena Air Force Base, but that the aircraft is currently undergoing a damage assessment from the laser attack.

U.S. military aircraft have previously sustained Chinese laser attacks. In 2018, U.S. pilots flying in and out of airbases in the African country Djibouti sustained minor injuries they attributed to targeting by Chinese lasers. U.S. aircraft in the Pacific also dealt with a series of at least 20 Chinese laser attacks in a span of just a few months in 2018 and several pilots have suffered minor eye injuries as a result.