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A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command told the paper that while the source is “exceedingly difficult to pinpoint … many likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations.”
U.S. crews had no permanent injuries although minor effects such as short-term vision impairment and headaches were reported.
The Journal article did not indicate whether the laser illuminations were being coordinated, or if the perpetrators were using lasers of a different type or power than those commonly involved in illuminations of civilian aircraft outside of conflict zones.
Lasing rate comparison
For comparison with civil aviation, during the same January-July 2018 period American civilian pilots reported 3,182 laser illuminations to the Federal Aviation Administration. In Canada there were roughly 190 laser illuminations reported to Transport Canada, and in the U.K. there were roughly 500 laser illuminations reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The Middle East incidents appear to indicate a higher rate of lasing than two recent areas of concern recently disclosed by U.S. military:
- In May 2018, a Pentagon spokesperson reported “between 2 and ten” lasers aimed at U.S. aircraft operating out of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
- From September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen aircraft in the East China Sea were illuminated by “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers similar to those sold for pointing and playing with pets.
Laser incidents in the Middle East had been at about 700 in 2015, about 600 in 2016, and were at about 400 in 2017. At the current rate of about 50 per month in the first seven months of 2018, there would be about 600 incidents estimated for all of 2018.
From a Wall Street Journal article by reporter Gordon Lubold; the article is behind a paywall. A non-paywall (free) summary is at The Hill.
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US & Djibouti: UPDATED - Pentagon says Chinese have aimed lasers at US planes in Djibouti, causing two injuries
Spokesperson Dana White said the reason for the laser activity is unknown, “but it’s serious, we take it seriously.” She said it was “a true threat to our airmen”. The U.S. has protested and has asked the Chinese government to investigate.
Another Pentagon spokesperson, Major Sheryll Klinke, said the C-130 pilots were hit with a “military grade” laser.
On April 14 2018, the US military posted this notice to airmen (NOTAM) on the Federal Aviation Administration website, warning about “unauthorized laser activity” in Djibouti.
The NOTAM was scheduled to expire on June 14.
The NOTAM coordinates (N1135.70 E04303.14) are about 2,400 feet from China’s military base in Djibouti, opened August 1 2017 near Camp Lemonnier.
An article in the quasi-official South China Morning Post referred to “Chinese military observers [who] said the lasers might have been used to scare off birds near the airfield or disrupt possible spy drones, rather than targeting foreign pilots. A Beijing-based military analyst said China has already demonstrated laser weapons being used against drones, at airshows.
China is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that cause permanent blindness. The protocol does not ban laser dazzlers, which temporarily impair vision but do not cause eye damage. It is also permitted under the Protocol to use lasers to disrupt or damage cameras and sensors such as those on missiles or satellites.
According to The Drive, “As of 2015, Chinese forces had access to at least four different man-portable systems, the BBQ-905, PY131A, PY132A, and the WJG-2002, all of which look like oversized assault rifles or shoulder-fired grenade launchers.”
From The Drive, Janes 360, C4ISRNET, Defense News, South China Morning Post, FAA PilotWeb, and a YouTube video of the May 3 2018 Pentagon press briefing by Dana White. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATED May 4 2018: China’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry both denied the U.S. allegations of laser use by China.
UPDATED May 7 2019: An annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments does not mention the April 2018 Djibouti laser incidents. It does mention "a few provocative Chinese military actions" but not the alleged Chinese lasers in Djibouti. A news story says the omission is "an apparent bid to preserve the controversial military exchange program with Beijing." From the Washington Free Beacon
At about 9:40 pm on October 29 2017, and at 2:30 am the next morning, the pilots of a United Airlines plane reported green laser light being aimed at them.
The laser was traced to Rawit, who had been fishing in waters off Ruo in Chuuk State. Police said the laser was similar to “military grade” laser pointers; it was six inches long with a flashlight mode and red and green lasers.
Rawit admitted that each time he saw the plane overhead, he aimed his laser pointer at the aircraft.
In FSM, it is not illegal to own that type of laser pointer, but it is illegal to point it at an aircraft.
Rawit could be jailed for up to five years, and could be fined up to $10,000.
From Marianas Variety
On February 19 2009, Joshua Don Park allegedly pointed a green laser beam two times at the Apache helicopter as it was flying over the Bluffdale area, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. Pilot Ken Samson said “It was strong enough that it illuminated my window, but not the entire cabin.” According to Samson, the laser was brighter than a laser pen, but was not a “military grade” laser.
The air crew notified the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office of the approximate location. A deputy went door to door. When they encountered Park, the 30-year-old said he had a laser pointer to play with his cats. Park admitted that he had shined a laser at the aircraft.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Park “believed that the helicopter was way too far away for it to make an impact or even see [sic]”
Park was charged on March 11 2009 with one count of interference with the operation of an aircraft. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
From KSL.com (Feb 25 arrest report, March 11 charge) and Deseret News
UPDATED - August 31 2017: A National Guard pilot told the South Valley Journal that Park committed suicide shortly before he could be sentenced. Park died September 17 2009, according to a September 20 obituary in the Deseret News which included this photo:
The South Valley Journal article implied that Park’s suicide was linked to the laser incident, and that it changed how the National Guard reacted to laser incidents. The article stated “Since that sobering incident, no Utah National Guard pilots have reported lasing incidents to the FBI—but not for lack of occurrences.”
There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by the laser, so the Navy “believes it was not of industrial or military grade quality….” A Navy public affairs officer from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command called the Iranian use of the laser as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
From CNN and Stars and Stripes. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention. Note: The U.S. Navy in November 2014 deployed the first laser weapon sent into trials on an active duty warship, the USS Ponce. Six commercial welding lasers are merged into a single beam of 30 kilowatts, that can be used against targets including Iranian gunboats, according to SlashGear.