Australia’s Department of Defence (DOD) has confirmed that its P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was targeted by a laser from a Chinese ship.

On 17 February 2022, P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating it when the aircraft was flying nearly 7.7km away from the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) vessel at an altitude of 457m.

The aircraft was carrying out a routine surveillance flight over Australia’s northern approaches last week.

The nearest distance between the P-8 and PLA-N vessel was around 4km, which is a standard flight profile for the Royal Australian Air Force aircraft for a visual investigation of a surface ship.

According to the DOD, illumination of the airplane by the Chinese ship is a serious security incident.

Defence performs surveillance patrols in line with international law, including the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).

To conduct these patrol missions, the P-8A is loaded with numerous sensors to detect, track, and comprehend air, surface, and subsurface contacts.

Some of the surveillance tools are photography, sonobuoys, and radio calls.

However, no sonobuoys were used before the PLA-N vessel directed its laser at the P-8A aircraft.

After the incident, some sonobuoys that were used were dropped in the water at a ‘significant distance’ ahead of the PLA-N ship.

Throughout the event, P-8A Poseidon was functioning within international law.

In a statement, the DOD said: “Australia expects all foreign vessels entering our maritime zones to abide by international law, particularly the UNCLOS.

“Australia supports and respects the rights of all states to exercise lawful freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace.

“Australia does not engage in the spread of misinformation or disinformation.”