The following update was provided by the Department of Defence on 22 February 2022
On 17 February 2022, an Australian Maritime Patrol Aircraft P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft while it was conducting a routine surveillance flight over Australia’s northern approaches.
The laser was detected as emanating from a People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) vessel. Illumination of the aircraft by the Chinese vessel is a serious safety incident.
Defence conducts surveillance patrols as part of our integrated and layered approach to surveillance of our maritime approaches including the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.
These activities are conducted in a disciplined and safe manner, well clear of surface vessels and in accordance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
To surveil the approaches to Australia the P-8A is equipped with an array of sensors to locate, track and understand air, surface and subsurface contacts.
Surveillance activities are conducted using all available surveillance tools including photography, sonobuoys and radio calls to identify maritime and air traffic.
The use of sonobuoys for maritime surveillance is common practice.
Sonobuoys are used to collect passive acoustic data on environmental activity as well as surface and sub-surface contacts. These buoys are a receiving buoy only and do not pose any hazard to shipping.
No sonobuoys were used prior to the PLA-N vessel directing its laser at the P-8A aircraft on 17 February. Some sonobuoys were used after the incident but were dropped in the water a significant distance ahead of the PLA-N vessel.
The aircraft was acting within international law at all times.
At the time of the lasing incident the RAAF P-8 was approximately 7.7 kilometres from the PLA-N vessel and was flying at an altitude of 457m.
The closest the P-8 flew to the PLA-N vessel was approximately 4 kilometres.
This is a standard flight profile for RAAF maritime patrol aircraft for a visual investigation of a surface vessel.
Australia expects all foreign vessels entering our maritime zones to abide by international law, particularly the UNCLOS.
Australia has raised its concerns to the Chinese Government about the lasing incident, via senior Australian Defence and DFAT officials liaising directly with the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. Senior diplomatic staff in Beijing have also raised the matter with both China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense.
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.