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U.S. says Apache copters were targeted by laser weapons near Korean DMZ

By FRANKLIN FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2003

Two U.S. attack helicopters flying near the Korean Demilitarized Zone in March were targeted by laser weapons, U.S. Forces Korea officials confirmed Tuesday.

Two Apache helicopters reportedly were on a routine training mission when their on-board laser-detection alarms were activated, indicating “that laser systems may have illuminated their aircraft,” said Army Col. Samuel T. Taylor, USFK spokesman.

Taylor said neither pilot was injured and there was no reported damage to the Apaches. He was unable to confirm whether North Korean forces were responsible for the incident, but “we know that the North Korean military employs both laser range-finding equipment and laser-designating equipment throughout its force.”

Such laser weapons can damage human eyes from several miles away.

Taylor did not know the date, time or exact location of the incident, what action the aircrews or U.S. military took in the aftermath, or what measures may have been taken in the weeks since.

A recent Washington Times report quoted unnamed “defense officials” as saying North Korea’s military fired the laser as the Apaches flew about two miles south of the DMZ.

The incident was kept secret until defense officials revealed it to The Times, the newspaper reported.

Four North Korean jets also intercepted a U.S. spy plane in March, attempting to force the unarmed RC-135 aircraft to land in North Korea. The North Korean pilots threatened the RC-135 crew with heat-seeking missiles, according to military officials.

The Times quoted U.S. intelligence officials as saying an internal analysis of the laser incident suggested North Korea had acquired Chinese-made, ZM-87 anti-personnel lasers. The world’s only laser device made for use against troops, the ZM-87 can injure human eyes from just under two miles away. It can damage eyes at ranges up to three miles if a special magnification device is used, according to the report.

The Apache crews were not wearing laser-eye protection when the incident occurred, but since then, crews patrolling the DMZ are required to wear it as a safeguard against laser attacks, The Times reported.

Laser attacks have injured U.S. military personnel in the past.

In April 1997, a Russian merchant ship spying on U.S. nuclear submarines in Washington’s Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Puget Sound, fired a laser at a Canadian helicopter. Lt. Jack Daly, a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, and the Canadian helicopter pilot, Capt. Pat Barnes, sustained permanent eye damage, The Times said.

And a laser caused eye injuries to two U.S. Army helicopter crewmen flying over Bosnia-Herzegovina in October 1998.


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