US military says the pointing of lasers at aircraft is a “very serious” issue. (US Air Force: Staff Sgt. Tony R. Tolley)
China has denied allegations its forces targeted United States military aircraft with high-powered lasers near China’s military base in Djibouti, resulting in minor eye injuries to two pilots.
- Military spokeswoman says multiple incidents have occurred in recent weeks
- US Military has warned airmen to exercise caution when flying over certain pats of Djibouti
- Lasers present a serious problem because when aimed at aircraft they can temporarily blind pilots
The accusation from the US comes amid reports of China installing missile systems in the South China sea.
Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, hosts a US military base that is home to about 4,000 personnel, including special operations forces, and is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.
The US military has been grappling with lasers being pointed at aircraft for decades.
However, the Pentagon accusations highlight the concern the US has about a Chinese military base just miles from a critical US base in Djibouti.
“They are very serious incidents … We have formally démarched the Chinese government and we’ve requested the Chinese investigate these incidents,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.
Ms White said the Pentagon was confident the lasers had been pointed by Chinese nationals and in the past few weeks fewer than 10 incidents had taken place.
China warns US not to speculate
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had informed the US that: “After strict verification, we have told the US side that what they alleged is absolutely untrue.”
“You can remind the relevant US person to keep in mind the truthfulness of what they say, and to not swiftly speculate or make accusations,” she told a daily briefing in Beijing.
The Defence Ministry issued a similar denial, saying it had refuted the accusations from the American side through formal channels.
“China always strictly abides by international law and the law of the country of residency and is committed to maintaining regional security and stability,” said the statement posted to the ministry’s microblog.
The US also put out a notice to airmen, saying they should exercise caution when flying near certain areas in Djibouti.
Lasers present a serious problem because when aimed at aircraft they can injure pilots or temporarily blind them, which can present safety risks particularly as they are taking off and landing.
China opened its first ever foreign military base in Djibouti last year, joining the US and a number of other countries with military installations in the nation, which is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.
While China stated originally that the base was intended as a logistics hub for UN peacekeeping missions and anti-piracy patrols, it is seen as part of a Chinese military expansion into the Indian Ocean that has alarmed regional rival India.
This year, the US military put countering China, along with Russia, at the centre of a new national defence strategy.