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US & Middle East (including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan): U.S. military pilots illuminated by lasers

From January through July 2018, American military pilots reported more than 350 laser illuminations in the Middle East, predominantly in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an August 17 2018 article in the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command told the paper that while the source is “exceedingly difficult to pinpoint … many likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations.”

U.S. crews had no permanent injuries although minor effects such as short-term vision impairment and headaches were reported.

The Journal article did not indicate whether the laser illuminations were being coordinated, or if the perpetrators were using lasers of a different type or power than those commonly involved in illuminations of civilian aircraft outside of conflict zones.

Lasing rate comparison

For comparison with civil aviation, during the same January-July 2018 period American civilian pilots reported 3,182 laser illuminations to the Federal Aviation Administration. In Canada there were roughly 190 laser illuminations reported to Transport Canada, and in the U.K. there were roughly 500 laser illuminations reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Middle East incidents appear to indicate a higher rate of lasing than two recent areas of concern recently disclosed by U.S. military:

  • In May 2018, a Pentagon spokesperson reported “between 2 and ten” lasers aimed at U.S. aircraft operating out of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
  • From September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen aircraft in the East China Sea were illuminated by “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers similar to those sold for pointing and playing with pets.

Laser incidents in the Middle East had been at about 700 in 2015, about 600 in 2016, and were at about 400 in 2017. At the current rate of about 50 per month in the first seven months of 2018, there would be about 600 incidents estimated for all of 2018.

From a Wall Street Journal article by reporter Gordon Lubold; the article is behind a paywall. A non-paywall (free) summary is at The Hill.
Click to read more...

US & East China Sea: US officials say lasers have targeted military pilots in the East China Sea

Pilots of U.S. military aircraft have reported that lasers were aimed at them from ships and shore locations around the East China Sea. From September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen aircraft saw the lasers, said to be from “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers similar to those sold for pointing and playing with pets.

U.S. officials said the low-level, harassing beams came from fishing vessels and from shore.

U.S. and Chinese military interests have had disputes in the East China Sea in recent years. However, there was no specific indication of whether there was malicious intent, or any organized effort behind the laser incidents. The officials speculated that the lasers could be directed by the Chinese government, or could be “disgruntled Chinese fishermen… who simply want to harass American pilots.”

East_China_Sea_Map

A spokesperson for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that flying procedures have not changed due to the laser incidents. She did say pilots are “employing” required laser eye protection.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called claims that China was responsible for the East China Sea lasers “groundless and sheer fabrications.”

According to news.com.au, “All aspects of the Chinese economy are state-controlled. And its fishing fleets are operated as a militia, working in close concert with Beijing’s navy as it seeks to assert its arbitrary claim to total control of the South and East China Seas…. The waterway is, however, part of a busy sea lane carrying enormous quantities of international trade.”

Disclosure of the East China Sea incidents came about seven weeks after the United States publicly accused China of deliberately aiming lasers between two and ten times at military aircraft in Djibouti, in East Africa. In those incidents, the Pentagon said “military-grade” lasers were used. Two U.S. Air Force pilots received minor, unspecified injuries with no long-term effects.

From the Wall Street Journal, news.com.au and Stars and Stripes

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: About 24 laser/aircraft incidents over nine months from boats or the shore of the East China Sea seems like a plausible number for random, unconnected civilian misuse of commonly available laser pointers.
      Consider that the East China Sea has an area of about 500,000,000 square miles. This is roughly equivalent to the combined area of Texas, California and Florida. (Of course the Sea is far less populated even considering seacoast populations.)
      In the U.S. in 2017, there were roughly 5,600 reported incidents over nine months, so 24 incidents in the same period is a reasonable number for a less-populated area. Another indication that these may be from civilian misuse is that U.S. officials indicated the East China Sea incidents occurred from “smaller, commercial-grade” lasers which includes readily available low-powered consumer laser pointers.
      However, if Chinese fishing fleets are a “militia” as claimed by one news source, then there may be some coordination or central control for the laser attacks.

      For a contrary view, see the June 25 2018 column “
China is Trying to Bring Down American Planes With Lasers. Time to Get Tough” in the Daily Beast. Author Gordon Chang considers but rejects the unorganized attack hypothesis. He says “it is difficult to believe that Chinese fishermen can pick out American military aircraft from civilian ones without radar or other help. Moreover, state support is the best explanation for the increasing sophistication of the laserings.”
      Chang argues that “Washington should consider the attacks, almost certainly directed by Beijing, as attempts to injure pilots and their crews. The American response, therefore, should be immediate in timing and devastating in effect….”

China: Pentagon made "groundless accusations" about Djibouti lasers

The Chinese Defense Ministry, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry on May 4 2018 denied that it was aiming lasers at U.S. aircraft based in Djibouti.

According to China Daily, “The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the ministry has dismissed such ungrounded accusations from some US officials via official channels. It added that China always firmly honors international laws and regulations in Djibouti, and is dedicated to safeguarding regional security and peace.”

Separately, Reuters reported that “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the government had conducted ‘serious checks’ and told the U.S. side the accusations were groundless. ‘You can remind the relevant U.S. 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.”

From China Daily and Reuters

US & Djibouti: UPDATED - Pentagon says Chinese have aimed lasers at US planes in Djibouti, causing two injuries

In a May 3 2018 press conference, a Pentagon spokesperson said that China has aimed lasers at American aircraft at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti between two and 10 times. On one occasion, this caused two minor, unspecified injuries with no long-term effects to pilots of an Air Force C-130 Hercules.

Spokesperson Dana White said the reason for the laser activity is unknown, “but it’s serious, we take it seriously.” She said it was “a true threat to our airmen”. The U.S. has protested and has asked the Chinese government to investigate.

Another Pentagon spokesperson, Major Sheryll Klinke, said the C-130 pilots were hit with a “military grade” laser.

On April 14 2018, the US military posted this notice to airmen (NOTAM) on the Federal Aviation Administration website, warning about “unauthorized laser activity” in Djibouti.

Pic 2018-05-03 at 7.51.55 PM

The NOTAM was scheduled to expire on June 14.

The NOTAM coordinates (N1135.70 E04303.14) are about 2,400 feet from China’s military base in Djibouti, opened August 1 2017 near Camp Lemonnier.

An article in the quasi-official South China Morning Post referred to “Chinese military observers [who] said the lasers might have been used to scare off birds near the airfield or disrupt possible spy drones, rather than targeting foreign pilots. A Beijing-based military analyst said China has already demonstrated laser weapons being used against drones, at airshows.

China is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that cause permanent blindness. The protocol does not ban laser dazzlers, which temporarily impair vision but do not cause eye damage. It is also permitted under the Protocol to use lasers to disrupt or damage cameras and sensors such as those on missiles or satellites.

According to The Drive, “As of 2015, Chinese forces had access to at least four different man-portable systems, the BBQ-905, PY131A, PY132A, and the WJG-2002, all of which look like oversized assault rifles or shoulder-fired grenade launchers.”


From The Drive, Janes 360, C4ISRNET, Defense News, South China Morning Post, FAA PilotWeb, and a YouTube video of the May 3 2018 Pentagon press briefing by Dana White. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.

UPDATED May 4 2018: China’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry both denied the U.S. allegations of laser use by China.

US and Iran: UPDATED - Iranian naval ship shines laser on US helicopter says U.S.; Iran denies

An Iranian naval vessel aimed a “targeting laser” at a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E helicopter on June 13 2017. This set off the helicopter’s automatic defense system, which fired flare signals.

A group of three U.S. ships — a destroyer, an amphibious assault ship, and a dry cargo ship — were transiting international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, according to a U.S. military statement. The Iranian naval vessel, said by one source to be a missile ship, came within 800 yards of the assault ship and scanned two of the U.S. ships with a spotlight.

The helicopter was flying alongside the deployment when the Iranian targeting laser was aimed at it, setting off the flares.

There was no report of injury to the helicopter pilots. A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said “Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles.”

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter
Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion


From Newsweek and CNN

UPDATED JULY 16 2017 - Iran claimed it did not point a laser at the helicopter. The Tasnim News Agency said “A top commander of Iran’s Navy denied reports that the country’s naval forces had pointed a laser at an airborne US Marine Corps helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz back in June. Commander of Iran's First Naval Zone Admiral Hossein Azad categorically denied reports of such incident.”

The report had no additional details, such as what could have set off the helicopter’s flares as claimed by the initial U.S. report.

From the
Tasnim News Agency and the Tehran Times

UK: Concern over teens with laser pen camping on building under flight path

Concerns have been raised about teenagers with a “long range” laser pen on the roof of the 16-story Albion Towers housing unit in Southampton. On July 19 2016, neighborhood security wardens broke up a group of about five teens sleeping on the roof. They had apparently done this a number of times before, according to residents of the top-floor flats.

The building is located under a major flightpath, about 3.5 miles from Southampton Airport. On the map below, Albion Towers is towards the bottom; the airport is at the top.

Pic 2016-07-29 at 3.04.10 PM

According to the Southern Daily Echo, shocked tenants and community leaders have condemned the trespassing youths as ‘putting lives at risk’…”

Housing authorities sent letters to some residents stating that the teens’ actions were “extremely dangerous” and the long range laser pointer could have caused a “major incident” if aimed at aircraft.

The letter noted that the youths appeared “undeterred” and had “considered their actions humorous.”

The news report did not indicate that any lasing activity, or any aiming of the laser towards aircraft, had actually occurred.

From the Southern Daily Echo

Ukraine: Video shows Russian soldier aiming laser at recon plane

A video released by Ukraine's press service shows a Russian soldier aiming a green laser at a Ukranian DA42 light surveillance plane. This was apparently done either for determining range, or to dazzle the pilots or the surveillance camera.

The propeller plane was patrolling the northern part of Crimea when it was fired upon during daylight hours.

Ukraine recon plane Russian soldier laser 300w
A still frame from the video, showing the soldier outside a tent



From The Aviationist

US: FBI terrorism unit called in to find lasers aimed at New York-area aircraft

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is looking for the source of two laser illuminations of airplanes approaching New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The October 18 2013 announcement offered a reward for information in the incidents.

At 7:35 pm on October 15 2013, a Shuttle America (Delta Connection) airplane was on final approach, six miles from the runway, when the cockpit was lit up by green laser light. The crew said the laser source was west of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (green marker in the map below)

At 10:37 pm the same day, a private aircraft two miles southwest of LaGuardia reported a green laser. The laser source was near the intersection of Broadway and Steinway Streets in Queens (red marker).

New York map copy 2
The two locations are about 7 miles apart directly or 11 miles by roadway; driving between the two sites would take about 20 minutes.


No one on either aircraft was injured by the laser beam, according to the FBI.

There were 54 reported laser incidents involving LaGuardia thus far in 2013, with 18 reports at Newark International Airport and 17 reports involving John F. Kennedy International Airport.

From the Associated Press via Global News and ABC News, and from the Daily Mail. Click the “Read More…” link for the FBI press release.

Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - 18 months in prison for Texas man who lased helicopter

On September 25 2013, Magarito Tristan III was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus an additional two years of supervised release following his term, for aiming a laser pointer at a Customs and Border Patrol helicopter. The 28-year-old from Donna, Texas, had previously pleaded guilty in July 2013 to one felony count of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He has been in custody since the March 7 2013 incident.

The helicopter had been conducting a training exercise. The laser light went in the pilots’ eyes and disoriented them. Pilot Bryan Minnear thought he was under attack. In a statement to the court, he wrote: “My first thought was that we would soon hear and feel the impact of bullets hitting the helicopter. At our altitude we had no way of knowing it was a laser pointer, not a weapon…. Why someone would choose to target any aircraft, much less one performing critical work for the public is beyond my understanding.”

From The Monitor. An press release about the sentence, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas on September 25 2013, is here. The original LaserPointerSafety.com report of the March 7 2013 incident is here.

Egypt: Dozens of laser pointers aimed at helicopters during protest

Egyptian protesters aimed dozens of laser pointers at military helicopters overflying the crowd, on July 1 2013. This appears to be the first time that multiple laser pointers have been deliberately converged on aircraft. There were no immediate reports of injuries to the air crews, or of the laser light causing the pilots to lose control.

Pic 2013-07-01 at 5.51.00 PM


Complete coverage, including more photos and videos, is in this LaserPointerSafety.com story in the “Statistics, laws, all other news” section.

Pakistan: Terror alert issued; lasers mentioned as possible attack

Pakistani airports and other public institutions are on a heightened terror alert as of December 15 2011. The general manager of the Airport Security Force (ASF) said there is a threat against airports similar to the July 2001 attack on Sri Lanka’s airport . Anti-air defense systems have been deployed and snipers have been stationed.

Laser attacks were mentioned as a possibility by the ASF manager. An Italian-language news source said “police have arrested several suspects in October for trying to bring down a plane of the flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Lahore to Quetta by using a large laser projector. But the pilot managed to divert the course and avert disaster.” (Via Google Translate)

From Pakistan Today and the Italian-language Blitz Quotidiano

South Korea: US helicopters flying near Demilitarized Zone illuminated by lasers

Two U.S. Apache helicopters on a training mission near the Korean Demilitarized Zone were illuminated by laser weapons in March 2003. Laser detectors on the helicopters were activated; there was no effect on either the pilots or the aircraft.

An Army spokesperson said it is unknown if North Korean forces were responsible, but “we know that the North Korean military employs both laser range-finding equipment and laser-designating equipment throughout its force.”

Sources quoted by the Washington Times said the laser was aimed by North Korean forces, and was possibly a Chinese-made Norinco ZM-87 anti-personnel laser. The fifteen-milliwatt neodymium laser emits five pulses per second. It was the first publicly-demonstrated weapon explicitly designed to inflict permanent eye damage. It could blind up to three miles away, or cause temporary blindness as far as six miles away.

The ZM-87 was introduced in 1995. Due to concern over the ZM-87, later in 1995 the Protocol on Blinding Weapons amended the 1980 Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, in order to ban laser weapons designed to permanently blind persons.

The Times sources also said the Apache crews were not wearing laser-eye protection when the incident occurred, but since then, crews patrolling the DMZ are required to wear it as a safeguard.

Korea incident from the Washington Times, Stars and Stripes and UPI. ZM-87 history and capabilities from The National Interest

Bosnia: US helicopters hit four times by lasers; caused eye injuries

The following news story was broadcast November 4 1998 at 6:31 p.m. EST by the Voice of America:

Intro: The pilot and a crewman on an American helicopter were hurt recently (October 24 1998) when someone fired a laser at their aircraft patrolling over Bosnia-Herzegovina. The men were able to land safely but this, and similar incidents in the Balkans, have sparked concern among U.S. air crews. U.S. military officials and police in Bosnia are investigating the incidents, and the U.S. Army says it is now changing the way it uses its helicopters. VOA's Jim Randle reports from the Pentagon.

Text: Pentagon officials say U.S. helicopters have been hit by lasers four times in Bosnia. Officials say one case caused 'mild to moderate' eye injuries when the laser light stayed on the aircraft for four or five seconds. The pilot and a sergeant were both treated for eye injuries, and both are expected to recover and be able to resume flying.

Nevertheless, Pentagon officials say the Army is changing the way It uses helicopters over Bosnia to lessen the danger to pilots -- but will give few details.

Pentagon spokesman Mike Doubleday did say pilots now have some protection from the laser threat: "What we've done to deal with the situation is to provide helicopter crews with either special glasses or goggles that protect their eyes in these situations."

An expert in weapons technology says the pilots have good reason for concern. John Pike studies strategic issues for the Federation of American Scientists. He says four thousand Iranian soldiers suffered eye injuries, including blindness, when Iraqi forces swept powerful lasers across their ranks during the Iran-Iraq War.

Mr. Pike said, "It was a lot easier for them to injure those soldiers using a laser than it was to kill them by hitting them with a bullet. And the thing is that an injured soldier is a lot more of a burden to a military than a dead soldier is, because every injured soldier requires several more to get him back to the hospital."

Mr. Pike says the Iranian battlefield lasers were those used by tanks to determine the range to a target. Other lasers are used to guide bombs and shells to targets with great precision.

Lasers are used by many nations, including the United States, in tanks, anti-aircraft weapons and to disrupt electronic devices.

Mr. Pike says recent treaties [the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, a 1995 amendment to the 1980 Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons] labeled weapons specifically designed to blind soldiers as "inhumane" and banned their use. But he says with so many lasers playing so many battlefield roles, it will be difficult to enforce the ban on these weapons.

From the Federation of American Scientists