This ABC’s story appeared on RNZ.co.nz. Kaniva News collaborates with RNZ.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a Chinese military vessel shining a laser at an Australian maritime aircraft was an “act of intimidation” that put Defence Force lives at risk.
A Chinese PLA-N Luyang-class guided missile destroyer leaves the Torres Strait and enters the Coral Sea on 18 February in this image supplied by the Australian Defence Force. Photo: Supplied / Australian Defence Force
Defence says the incident occurred at 12:35am on Thursday, when an RAAF P-8A Poseidon detected a military-grade laser illuminating the aircraft while in flight just north of Australia.
Up to 10 personnel were on board the aircraft when the incident occurred.
The Department of Defence says the Chinese vessel, in company with another People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) ship, was sailing east through the Arafura Sea at the time.
Morrison said the laser could have disabled the aircraft, putting the entire crew at risk.
“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,” he said.
“It was a reckless and irresponsible act and it should not occur.
“We are raising those issues directly through the diplomatic and defence channels.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News the incident was an example of “aggressive bullying” by the Chinese military.
“It can result in the blindness of the crew, it can obviously result in damage of equipment,” Dutton said.
“It’s a very aggressive act and that’s why it’s right we call it out.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the federal government should be “making the strongest possible statement” about the incident.
“It’s an outrageous act of aggression that should be condemned and I condemn it,” Albanese said.
Both Chinese ships have since transited through the Torres Strait and are in the Coral Sea.
In a statement, Defence said it strongly condemned “the unprofessional and unsafe military conduct”.
“These actions could have endangered the safety and lives of the ADF personnel,” the statement said.
“Such actions are not in keeping with the standards we expect of professional militaries.
“Acts like this have the potential to endanger lives.”
Senior military figures have privately described the PLA-N conduct as “appalling”.
Defence Headquarters Joint Operations Command released a storyboard of the incident, which showed the ships’ passage into the Arafura Sea and through the Torres Strait into the Coral Sea.
The storyboard shows the two Chinese vessels had been observed by the ADF six times in five days, including south of the Indonesian island of Java, in the Timor and Arafura seas and finally, passing through Torres Strait.
It is not the first time that lasers have been used against ADF aircraft.
In 2019, the ABC revealed that hand-held lasers were increasingly being used against ADF assets, with military insiders blaming small Chinese maritime militia vessels.
In the most recent case, the incident occurred inside Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.