In Djibouti, lasers aimed at U.S. air crews flying over their military base are being used by Chinese military to interfere with U.S. military operations, two officials told CNN.
The activity has resulted in injuries to U.S. pilots and prompted the U.S. to advise airmen to fly with caution over certain areas of the East African continent as lasers were “being directed at US aircraft on a small number of separate occasions over the last few weeks,” according to a notice obtained by CNN.
“During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” the notice said.
The reports are reinstating old concerns about China opting to establish an overseas military base so close to the U.S. military base in Djibouti, The Wall Street Journal noted.
“These incidents are not surprising as they represent an act just short of war, but indicate gross, intentional negligence, as well as complete disregard for aviation safety and international norms,” said Trey Meeks, a principal at the Asia Group research firm and a former Air Force colonel assigned to U.S. Pacific Command.
He noted that the recent activities would certainly be regarded as harassment.
Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Sheryll Klinkel said the lasers could “cause serious harm to the aircrew and the surrounding area,” adding that “the grade of the lasers are of military grade” and that “reports by the pilots were that they came from the direction of the Chinese base nearby,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
However, Chinese military observers told the South China Morning Post that the lasers were not targeting U.S. pilots but being used to scare off birds near the airfield.
Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military analyst, noted that the U.S. and Chinese military bases in Djibouti were so close to one another that it would be easy for disturbances to arise.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military expert, said the close proximity of the two bases meant that both sides would be locked in a “quiet contest” to gather information about each other, the South China Morning Post reported.