American military personnel piloting aircraft over the Pacific Ocean have been targeted in a series of apparent attacks reminiscent of previous, more serious Chinese military operations.
According to The Wall Street Journal, nearly two dozen incidents in recent months share the same troubling details.
Lasers originating from the East China Sea and surrounding areas were aimed at the aircraft, according to multiple U.S. military sources. The first known incident was in September and the latest came in recent weeks.
Experts believe additional attacks likely occurred but went unreported by the pilots involved.
Though still a major security issue, officials say the lasers used did not appear to be military grade. Instead, they were believed to be the type of commercial laser pointer readily available in stores and online.
Based on the common civilian and military uses of the area, the U.S. has not confirmed if some or all of the attacks were coordinated by Chinese personnel. The lasers appeared to have been based on fishing vessels, some of which were based in China.
The recently announced laser threat comes after reports of similar tactics being used on a larger scale by Chinese military forces based in East Africa.
Earlier this year, four reported incidents in Djibouti included lasers being directed at American pilots.
In three of those cases, the lasers being used were believed to be military-grade devices. The fourth appeared to have been a commercial product.
The source of the three military-grade laser attacks was identified as an area of a Chinese military base built in recent years near an existing U.S. base. American troops stationed there work on sensitive technology and operations, including drones.
Two pilots reported a range of effects after a laser was pointed into their aircraft as they flew over Djibouti this spring.
Among their reported symptoms were dizziness and impaired vision. The U.S. pilots reported seeing “rings” in their field of vision after the incident.
Even commercially available laser pointers can have serious negative consequences, including temporarily blinding pilots, and can result in criminal charges against individuals misusing the products.
While American officials do not consider the latest incidents near the East China Sea to be high-level threats, they are concerning — especially in the wake of reports that China had engaged in a different type of sensory attack against Americans.
Business Insider cited a statement by China’s Defense Ministry, which said it had “already refuted the untrue criticisms via official channels.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. government issued a warning to Americans living in China amid a spike in unexplained medical symptoms.
The U.S. Department of State confirmed “a number of individuals” were flown out of China and back to the U.S. for treatment after experiencing the mystery illness.
“Medical professionals will continue to conduct full evaluations to determine the cause of the reported symptoms and whether the findings are consistent with those noted in previously affected government personnel or possibly completely unrelated,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert at the time.
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