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U.S. Navy: Chinese Warship Aimed Powerful Laser at Patrol Aircraft

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File image courtesy USN

By The Maritime Executive 02-28-2020 05:44:00

On Friday, the U.S. Navy accused a Chinese destroyer of aiming a laser at a P-8A maritime patrol aircraft in an "unsafe and unprofessional" manner. 

On February 17, the Poseidon was on a patrol in uncontested international airspace about 380 miles west of Guam. A PLA Navy destroyer, hull number 161, allegedly aimed a high-powered laser at the aircraft. The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was detected by a sensor onboard the P-8A, the Navy said. 

"Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems," U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement. "The P-8A was operating in international airspace in accordance with international rules and regulations. The PRC navy destroyer’s actions were unsafe and unprofessional."

The lasing incident allegedly violated the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a multilateral agreement between the U.S. and China dating back to the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium. CUES addresses the use of lasers that could cause harm to personnel or damage to equipment. The Navy also said that the destroyer’s actions were inconsistent with an MOU between the Pentagon and China's ministry of defense regarding rules of behavior for air and maritime encounters.

The U.S Navy reiterated its right to fly and sail anywhere that international law allows, including the waters of the Philippine Sea. 

China's state media objected to Pacific Fleet's characterization of the incident. 

"The US accusation is an obvious attempt to hype the 'China threat' theory and raise its navy budget," state-controlled outlet Global Times wrote in an editorial Friday, citing an unnamed Chinese naval expert. "The Chinese warship was conducting normal training in international waters, and using related equipment during such training conforms to international law. Compared to the scheduled training by the Chinese warship, the fast approaching US warplane was the aggressive one."

PLA Navy hull number 161 corresponds to the Type 052D destroyer Hohhot, one of the three vessels in the class which entered service last year. Global Times reported that the Hohhot was accompanying the frigate Xianning, the surveillance ship Tianshuxing and the auxiliary ship Chaganhu on a training mission across the international date line "for the first time."