The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has confirmed a Chinese laser was detected “illuminating” a P-8A Poseidon aircraft late last week and is considered a “serious safety incident.”
It was directed from a People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) vessel, the national armed forces of China, according to the ADF.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned China for the act, claiming it was “reckless and irresponsible” and that the nation is raising the issue directly with diplomatic and defence channels.
The incident occurred at 12:35am on 17 February and was detected while the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft was flying over Australia’s north.
“Acts like this have the potential to endanger lives. We strongly condemn unprofessional and unsafe military conduct,” the ADF said in a statement.
Up to 10 personnel were onboard the aircraft when the laser was detected.
“These actions could have endangered the safety and lives of the ADF personnel. Such actions are not in keeping with the standards we expect of professional militaries.”
The vessel, in company with another PLA-N ship, was sailing east through the Arafura Sea in the Pacific Ocean and have since transited through the Torres Strait and are in the Coral Sea.
Below shows a storyboard created by the Headquarters Joint Operations Command depicting the PLA-N’s movements:
Andrew Greene, the ABC’s defence correspondent said that while ADF assets have been “increasingly targeted” in recent years, this incident occurred “very close” to Australia’s coast, inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The EEZ is an area of sea beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, and a certain state will have sovereignty over the zone regarding maritime use and exploration. Australia’s EEZ extends from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline of Australia.
Greene said that the military vessel and military grade laser had capabilities to take out the aircraft’s sensors.
“I’m very concerned about the actions, though, of using the lasers on an Australian surveillance aircraft,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
“That is, I can see it no other way than an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted, and Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation.
“We’ve had vessels off our coast, off the Queensland coast, keeping a close watch on Australia. And I can assure you, we keep a close watch on them.”