The US military has warned its airmen to beware of laser attacks near China’s first overseas military base.
Beware Chinese lasers, US warns airmen
The military issued a Notice to Airmen, later reproduced on the US Federal Aviation Administration’s website, that there had been multiple events “involving a high-power laser” just 2,400 feet from China’s base in Djibouti.
“Use extreme caution when transiting near this area,” the notice added.
Multiple intelligence sources reported that the Chinese garrison in Djibouti is suspected of operating a high-powered laser to temporarily blind pilots, according to a report in Jane’s Defence Weekly last month.
But Chinese military observers said the lasers might have been used to scare off birds near the airfield or disrupt possible spy drones, rather than targeting foreign pilots.
They also pointed out that China is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that cause permanent blindness.
“The Chinese and US bases in Djibouti are really close, so one could disturb the other if the two sides don’t have a proper communication mechanism,” Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the South China Morning Post.
Zhou noted that China has already publicly demonstrated its use of laser weapons against drones at air exhibitions.
The Chinese military base in Djibouti is just a few miles northwest of Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US military base in Africa and home to 4,000 US military personnel.
Camp Lemonnier was established after the 9/11 attacks, and is mainly used as a counterterrorism hub in the region. A 2013 Washington Post report said the Djibouti government had forced it to stop drone flights – which numbered up to 16 a day – from the base due to safety fears, and relocate its unmanned spy aircraft to a more remote location.
Djibouti sits in a vital strategic location close to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and offers troops easy access to trouble spots such as Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. It could potentially provide a base for aerial missions over Iraq and Syria.
The nation’s government has been happy to provide facilities for other countries’ armed forces. France, Spain and Japan all have opened facilities there.