China Fires ‘Laser Weapons’ At Philippines Vessel; Not The 1st Time Beijing Used Dazzlers To Flex Muscles

The Philippines Coast Guard has accused a Chinese Coast Guard ship of firing military grade laser on one of its vessels as tensions continue to escalate in the South China Sea.

The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) has alleged that a China coast guard (CCG) ship directed a “military-grade” laser at one of its vessels and put the Filipino crew in danger earlier this month, Strait Times reported. A visual proof was subsequently released that soon took the internet by storm.

The incident occurred in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by several South East Asian countries, primarily China.

On its part, China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory and has been accused of regularly intimidating the other regional claimants.

According to the Philippines Coast Guard, on February 6, the PCG ship was assisting a rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea’s Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which Manila refers to as one of its claimed islands. Ayungin is part of the Spratly Islands.

At around 6 p.m., as the ship approached the shoal at a distance of 10 nautical miles, the China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5205 flashed a green light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, temporarily blinding crew members who were on duty on the bridge or main command center, the PCG reported.

The Chinese ship allegedly passed the PCG ship’s bow at a distance of four nautical miles and then engaged in “dangerous maneuvers” with CCG 5205 only 137 meters away from the starboard quarter of the Philippine ship before beaming its laser, according to the Philippines.

PCG commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said, “The PCG condemns any actions that harm and jeopardize the safety of everyone, regardless of nationality.”

It is worth underlining that the Filipino Coast Guard regularly accuses the Chinese Coast Guard of intimidation and harassment in the disputed territories. Last month, the Philippine government said that the CCG harassed local fishermen near Ayungin Shoal.

Further, the latest allegations come after the US secured access to additional military bases in the Philippines, a move criticized as ‘provocative’ by the People’s Republic of China. Beijing warned Manila that it could be made a pawn in the zero-sum game being played by Washington.

At the time, the Chinese embassy in Manila said, “The United States, out of its self-interest and zero-sum game mentality, continues to step up its military posture in this region. Its actions escalate regional tension and undermine regional peace and stability. [China hopes] the Philippine side stays vigilant and resists being taken advantage of and dragged into troubled waters.”

While using military-grade lasers is touted as dangerous and one that could imperil the crew’s lives, the PLA has repeatedly used it on its adversaries. It has become a weapon of choice while confronting enemies in the Indo-Pacific.

china vessel laser
File Image: Laser Weapons

PLA’s Game Of Lasers

Military-grade laser beams, sometimes known as “dazzlers,” create a powerful beam of light that can travel enormous distances and can be used to blind the crew of ships or aircraft temporarily. China, for one, has been using lasers to assert control and supremacy over its adversaries.

Almost three years ago, in 2020, China was similarly accused of firing laser guns at Filipinos in the disputed South China Sea. However, at the time, the Philippines government chose to downplay the incident and absolved the Chinese Coast Guard of any significant wrongdoing.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on national television, “I don’t think they intend to harm our men with this latest incident of pointing a laser gun. Maybe they are testing what our reaction will be. And we have already filed a protest to the Chinese government.”

“But it’s offensive. Why do they need to aim their target acquisition radars on our airplanes and ships?” he said.

However, China’s firing of military-grade lasers has not been limited to its regional adversaries. The US troops had made similar complaints in 2018 when the PLA was accused of firing military-grade lasers at a C-130J aircraft in Djibouti, where both militaries have a significant presence.

In 2020, the PLA was again accused by the US Navy of firing laser weapons at an American P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft in the Pacific.

The P-8A Poseidon is a multi-mission maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft used by the United States Navy for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and humanitarian response operations. The PLA’s attack on P-8 did not stop there.

In February 2022, the Australian Department of Defense claimed that a Chinese military vessel endangered the lives of the Australian Defense Force after a laser was shone at a P-8A Poseidon maritime aircraft just north of Australia in the Pacific.

The PLA Navy, Chinese Coast Guard, and the PLA Air Force have also played a role in harassing adversaries with military-grade lasers.

In the summer of last year, the Australian DoD made shocking revelations about a RAAF P-8 Poseidon being dangerously intercepted by PLAAF J-16 fighter jets. The Chinese fighter allegedly fired flares or military lasers at the Australian spy plane.

The Chinese aircraft “flew very close to the side of the [Australian] P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft” and then “released flares,” Defense Minister Richard Marles told reporters in June 2022.

These incidents and accusations have seen an uptick in the last five years, indicating the Chinese military’s affinity for the military-grade laser.