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Anti-personnel Laser Weapons

Anti-personnel laser weapons are inexpensive, sold openly by the Third World, have line-of-sight aiming, and are capable of producing catastrophic results if used against aircrews and sensors in flight (especially during takeoffs and landings). Commercially available laser weapons include the ZM-87, developed by the Chinese and first displayed at the International Defense Exhibition in 1995. In addition, the Russians sell a truck-mounted high-energy laser. And the University of Tasmania in Hobart sells a CO2 laser system for controlling forest undergrowth. The system is used to ignite logging debris from distances of 100 to 1,500 meters. The laser, costing $86,500, is mounted on a gun turret carried in a 2-ton truck and is simple to operate. Similar systems are available commercially throughout the world.

Data from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System database for the last two years provide examples of commercial flights in which the pilots suffered eye damage from lasers. These include aircraft landings at Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. In Phoenix, one crew member was flashblinded, with resulting after-images and loss of night vision for about 1½ hours. Takeoffs have also been affected: in a 737 outbound from Los Angeles, two pilots were struck by a blinding flash that lasted 5 to 10 seconds. The first officer had burns on the outer eye and broken blood vessels. In a flight from Cleveland, one crew member received a bright blue light in his right eye and experienced vision impairment for the next 1½ hours. Data from the National Air Intelligence Center indicate that, in the U.S. alone, commercial lasers have caused over 50 blinding incidents. Lasers have also injured a number of Air Force personnel. For example, the Palace Casino’s laser show laser-illuminated a C-130 landing at Keesler AFB. The flight engineer, who was looking straight ahead, was blinded for 3 to 5 seconds and then experienced blurred vision. The next day, he experienced eye pain requiring eye drops. In April of this year, two Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter pilots were laser-illuminated from a Russian trawler during a routine mission.

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