Monday, January 03, 2005

Increase in Lasing Incidents

Recent weeks have seen a sudden surge in what the military calls "Lasing Incidents" -- use of lasers to attempt to dazzle or blind pilots. But rather than C-130s landing at Baghdad International, the recent incidents have been targeted at US domestic airliners. While it might be tempting to pawn these incidents off on people testing out their Christmas-present laser-pointers, or on news-story copy cats, both of these explanations are unlikely.

Lasing devices--long researched as military anti-aircraft devices by the US, China, Russia, Israel, India and others (i.e. they're readily available) are much more than the Radio-Shack standard laser-pointer. It would be nearly impossible to train a simple laser pointer on a cockpit window 10,000'+ away, and the power of the laser would have no appreciable impact. Military lasing devices are gyro-stabilized, with targeting scopes and high-powered lasers capable of dazzling or even permanently blinding a pilot.

There is insufficient information regarding the impact on pilots from the recent incidents to characterize the devices involved, but the sudden appearance of this tactic, combined with the similarity in method suggests a coordinated plan. All incidents have demonstrated intelligent employment, if that is what is in fact happening: targeting aircraft at 5,000 to 10,000 feet--within the capabilities of lasing devices, but high enough (far enough from airports) as to create an impossibly large search grid for security personnel.

IF an adversary group has taken possession of a number of latest-generation, military-grade lasing devices (yet to be determined), then this is indeed a troubling new trend. With such high-powered devices and frequent attacks (again, IF that is what has been occurring), it is only a matter of time before a plane crashes. And when that happens, the inability to prevent these attacks will reveal critical weakness of our air-transport network.


doug said...

Tactical nuclear detonations can also temporarily (or otherwise) blind troops, so platoon commanders in likely nuclear strike areas should designate a rotating fraction of their command to keep their eyes covered, and another fraction to keep one eye covered Or so I recall. Sounds good in theory, but in practice ...

However, maybe co-pilots should routinely look down at the floor when their aircraft is landing, so as to be able to take over if the pilot is blinded.

palinode said...

I recall seeing a story on CNN on the evening of December 14 about lasing incidents. The strangest element of the story was the Pentagon spokesperson who reassured viewers that, although pilots were being blinded, airline cockpits contained two people qualified to fly the plane. So we have nothing to worry about: the Pentagon seems to know that there's only one military laser out there blinding pilots and that it will only be used once per incident. So go ahead and fly those friendly skies.