Library image of a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon (Picture: APFootage/Alamy Stock Photo).
China

Lives of Australian Poseidon aircrew risked by Chinese laser, officials say

Australian defence chiefs say a Chinese navy ship fired a laser at one of their surveillance aircraft.

Library image of a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon (Picture: APFootage/Alamy Stock Photo).

Australian defence chiefs say a Chinese navy ship fired a laser at one of their surveillance aircraft, endangering the lives of its crew.

It happened on Thursday, when the P-8A Poseidon aircraft spotted a laser lighting up the aircraft when flying over Australia's northern approaches, according to Australian defence department officials.

The department said the laser came from a People's Liberation Army Navy vessel.

It was accompanying another Chinese ship that transited through the Torres Strait. Both ships are now in the Coral Sea, east of Australia, it said.

"Illumination of the aircraft by the Chinese vessel is a serious safety incident," the defence department added.

"We strongly condemn unprofessional and unsafe military conduct. These actions could have endangered the safety and lives of the ADF personnel."

Lasers are so problematic for aircrews because they can injure pilots or temporarily blind them.

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Two years ago, the US also accused the Chinese navy of firing a laser at one if its Poseidon planes over the Pacific.

China denied this, saying the plane had circled at low altitude over its warship despite repeated warnings.

In 2019, Australian navy helicopter pilots reported being were hit by lasers while exercising in the South China Sea, forcing them to land as a precaution.

In 2018, the US issued a formal complaint to the Chinese government over the use of high-grade lasers near the military base in Djibouti that were directed at aircraft and resulted in minor injuries to two American pilots.

Tensions have increased particularly in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety, while the US and its allies insist on freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters.