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South Korea: US helicopters flying near Demilitarized Zone illuminated by lasers

Two U.S. Apache helicopters on a training mission near the Korean Demilitarized Zone were illuminated by laser weapons in March 2003. Laser detectors on the helicopters were activated; there was no effect on either the pilots or the aircraft.

An Army spokesperson said it is unknown if North Korean forces were responsible, but “we know that the North Korean military employs both laser range-finding equipment and laser-designating equipment throughout its force.”

Sources quoted by the Washington Times said the laser was aimed by North Korean forces, and was possibly a Chinese-made Norinco ZM-87 anti-personnel laser. The fifteen-milliwatt neodymium laser emits five pulses per second. It was the first publicly-demonstrated weapon explicitly designed to inflict permanent eye damage. It could blind up to three miles away, or cause temporary blindness as far as six miles away.

The ZM-87 was introduced in 1995. Due to concern over the ZM-87, later in 1995 the Protocol on Blinding Weapons amended the 1980 Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, in order to ban laser weapons designed to permanently blind persons.

The Times sources also said the Apache crews were not wearing laser-eye protection when the incident occurred, but since then, crews patrolling the DMZ are required to wear it as a safeguard.

Korea incident from the Washington Times, Stars and Stripes and UPI. ZM-87 history and capabilities from The National Interest