Suspected Chinese Lasers Target American Military Aircraft in Pacific Ocean

American military aircraft conducting aerial operations over the western Pacific Ocean have been targeted by lasers over 20 times in the past few months, U.S. military officials said.

According to the officials, the incidents occurred in and around the East China Sea where Chinese personnel operates and uses lasers against U.S. pilots. The laser signals most likely came from fishing boats, the Pentagon officials added, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Even though more than 20 such incidents have been reported since September 2017, there could have been more, some of which may not have been reported. A number of the fishing boats involved were Chinese, but U.S. officials stopped short of confirming Chinese personnel were responsible for the laser flashes.

The attacks are very similar to those in East Africa from earlier this year, when military-grade lasers were used against American pilots. However, the incidents in the East China Sea involved smaller, commercial-grade lasers. They are nonetheless dangerous as the beams from such devices can temporarily blind pilots and in some cases cause eye damage.

The incidents are likely to be discussed next week when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visits Beijing and meets Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s Ministry of National Defense quickly dismissed media reports concerning the incidents, calling the U.S. accusations “groundless and fabricated,” according to a state-run newspaper.

An unnamed U.S. military spokeswoman said that none of the incidents in the disputed region have resulted in any medical complaints or injuries. In the Djibouti incident, however, the activity resulted in injuries to U.S. pilots, which prompted a diplomatic protest with China.

Following the East Africa incident, a U.S. defense official told CNN that the military also believed the Chinese were using similar lasers to interfere with U.S. aircraft in the South China Sea. Aiming a laser beam at an aircraft in the U.S. is a federal crime.

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