A Chinese warship targeted a U.S. naval patrol aircraft with a laser in international airspace earlier this month, Pacific Fleet announced Thursday.

Navy officials in Hawaii blasted the Chinese actions as “unsafe and unprofessional."

The Navy P-8A Poseidon was conducting routine operations on Feb. 17 about 380 miles west of Guam in the Philippine Sea when the incident occurred, Pacific Fleet spokesperson Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr told Navy Times.

The laser was not visible to the naked eye but was detected in flight by sensors on board the aircraft, McMarr said.

No aircrew members were injured and the plane landed safely at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, where it is forward deployed from the Jacksonville, Florida-based Patrol Squadron 45.

“The aircraft is currently undergoing a damage assessment,” she said.

The Navy said the laser actions by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Destroyer 161 violated the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chances of at-sea incidents.

The Chinese destroyer’s actions also ran afoul of a memorandum of understanding regarding rules of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters between the Department of Defense and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of National Defense, officials added.

“U.S Navy aircraft routinely fly in the Philippine Sea and have done so for many years. U.S. Navy aircraft and ships will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” the Navy said Thursday.

The only Chinese warship with 161 as a pennant number is the Hohhot, a Type 052D Luyang III-class guided-missile destroyer that joined PLAN’s South Sea Fleet at the beginning of 2019.

But there have been run-ins with other Chinese forces in recent years.

In 2018, a Chinese warship nearly collided with the American guided-missile destroyer Decatur in what the U.S. Navy termed an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.”

On Jan. 25, the littoral combat ship Montgomery skirted a disputed island in the South China Sea, sparking Beijing to scramble two armed fighter-bomber jets which “expelled it” from the area, Chinese state-run media claimed.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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