Chinese military personnel at a base in Djibouti are allegedly using high-powered lasers to harass American pilots flying over the East African country, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing Pentagon officials.
A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was sent out on April 14 called attention to the occurrence of “multiple lazing events involving a high-power laser in the vicinity of N1135.70 E04303.14,” coordinates located only a few hundred meters from a new Chinese military base in Djibouti, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly discovered. “Use extreme caution when transiting near this area,” the NOTAM, which was republished by the Federal Aviation Administration, warned.
Pentagon officials revealed to The WSJ that there have been numerous incidents in recent weeks. The most recent incident negatively affected two American service members flying a C-130 transport aircraft.
China began constructing its naval base in Djibouti two years ago, and the base officially opened on August 1, 2017. A live-fire naval exercise was conducted at the base the following month. While China often refers to the base, China’s first overseas military base, as a “depot” or “support facility,” the U.S. military has expressed serious concerns, given the base’s proximity to an American military base.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a peer competitor, as close as this one happens to be,” Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of AFRICOM, told Colin Clark at Breaking Defense in March of last year. “There are some very significant operational security concerns.” The Chinese military base in Djibouti is located just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier.
With new allegations that China may be using laser weaponry to target American flight crews surfacing, it would seem that U.S. concerns may have very well been justified.
Interestingly, China is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.
“It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices,” the treaty states clearly. Although there is a notable exception, which is that any “blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment, is not covered by the prohibition.”
In response to the latest allegations against the Chinese military, Chinese media accused the U.S. military and media of “cooking up phony laser stories about China.” The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese tabloid with unclear connections to the state, said that the U.S. should “stop making up stories.”
The U.S. has made a formal complaint to Beijing over this particular issue.
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