A Soviet naval vessel operating near the target zone of a Soviet missile test off Hawaii this week aimed a bright light, possibly a laser, at a U.S. intelligence aircraft, temporarily "disturbing" the eyesight of the copilot, the Defense Department said yesterday.

Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), who disclosed the incident, said the aviator had been "temporarily blinded" but not otherwise injured.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the incident occurred overnight Wednesday while a Navy P3 reconnaissance aircraft was "observing Soviet open-ocean ICBM reentry vehicle splashdowns near the Hawaiian Island chain."

The aircraft reported being "illuminated by an internal light" from the Soviet intelligence ship Chukota," 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 copilot's vision for 10 minutes."

"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 used laser devices "to irradiate Western patrol aircraft."

"In my opinion, anything that disturbs your vision for 10 minutes damages your vision," Wallop said. "The effect was to temporarily blind that copilot."