The Australian Department of Defence accused China of unprofessional and unsafe conduct, alleging that a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) vessel shone a laser at a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
The event happened on February 17, 2022. According to the DoD, the RAAF aircraft detected the laser beam while flying above the Arafura sea, north of Australia.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison called the incident “an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted.”
“Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation,” he told reporters in Australia.
According to the Australian DoD press release, two PLA-N ships were transiting through the area, heading towards the Torres strait. Photos of the ships published with the release show a Type 052D destroyer and a Type 071 amphibious transport dock.
According to Australian media, the ships were sailing through international waters, but in an area that is within Australia’s exclusive economic zone.
Reports suggest that a targeting laser was used. Such lasers measure the distance to a target which has been selected for attacking.
In a civilian aviation context, lasers are often considered dangerous as they can injure and disorient pilots. It is debatable if the same issue is relevant to military aircraft, as targeting lasers operate in the infrared spectrum and equipment on modern military aircraft typically features laser interference filters (LIFs). However, the Australian DoD said that the act had the “potential to endanger lives,” without explaining further.
Type 052D destroyers are armed with an array of anti-aircraft weaponry, including long-range surface-to-air missiles and rotary cannon close-in weapon systems (CIWS).
On February 21, 2022, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the Australian accusation “does not square up with facts”, according to The Print.
The spokesperson said that Chinese ships were acting in accordance with international laws.
Chinese state-controlled tabloid Global Times published a story alleging that it was the Australian aircraft that acted unsafely, conducting “close-in reconnaissance” of the Chinese warships and forcing them to “take defensive countermeasures”.
According to Wang, the aircraft came as close as 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) to the warships and placed multiple sonar buoys.