A Soviet naval vessel operating near the target zone of a Soviet missile test off Hawaii earlier this week aimed a bright light--possibly a laser--at a U.S. intelligence aircraft, temporarily "disturbing" the eyesight of the co-pilot, the Pentagon said Friday.
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), who initially disclosed the incident, identified the aviator as a woman and said she had been "temporarily blinded" but not otherwise injured.
The Defense Department said in a statement that the incident occurred sometime in the evening of Sept. 30 and the morning of Oct. 1 while a Navy P-3 reconnaissance aircraft was engaged in "observing Soviet open-ocean ICBM (intercontinental ballistics missile) re-entry vehicle splashdowns near the Hawaiian Island chain. . . ."
The aircraft reported being "illuminated by an internal light from the Soviet intelligence ship Chukotka," the Pentagon said. "We believe these emissions were from a laser," the statement said.
It said the light was intense enough that it "disturbed the co-pilot's vision for 10 minutes."
More Tests May Be Needed
"Although preliminary medical evaluation has shown no apparent damage, further detailed tests may be required to determine if, in fact, no damage to her eyes occurred," the Pentagon said.
It noted that the Soviets have in the past used laser devices "to irradiate Western patrol aircraft."
Wallop said in an interview, "In my opinion, anything that disturbs your vision for 10 minutes damages your vision. The effect was to temporarily blind that co-pilot."
Earlier this year, the Pentagon complained about the Soviets aiming lasers at U.S. aircraft.
In its 1987 edition of Soviet Military Power, the Pentagon said that "recent Soviet irradiation of Free World manned surveillance aircraft and ships could have caused serious eye damage to observers."
Included in the booklet was a picture of an "electro-optic sensor laser device" aboard a Soviet destroyer that "has been used to irradiate Western patrol aircraft."
Pilots Temporarily Blinded
A senior Defense Department official said at the time that there have been report of pilots being temporarily blinded by such laser beams.
Earlier, Reagan Administration officials said that Soviet missile testing in that area of the Pacific was a dangerous and unnecessary provocation.
"If there had been the slightest miscalculation, then this Soviet test warhead could have landed on a population center in the Hawaiian Islands," Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday.
"This cannot be excused, cannot be explained, as anything less than a direct threat to our national security," Wilson said.
Pentagon spokesman Fred Hoffman said the Soviets had fired two missiles toward Hawaii from central Russia. The first test appeared to be a failure, he said, but the second sent a missile into a Pacific target zone drawn by the Soviets that stretched to within 500 miles of Hawaii.