- A Chinese newspaper claimed the country has a laser rifle that can burn people and ignite explosions.
- The U.S. is working on similar tech, but these weapons are so big they must be mounted on vehicles.
- There's good reason to believe China is exaggerating what its gun can do.
China allegedly has a “laser assault rifle” that can fire a thousand shots at a time, “carbonizing” human skin and tissue.
The ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle, profiled in the South China Morning Post, is described as a laser wonder weapon. The article raises more questions than it answers, though Beijing’s research into laser weapons is particularly pertinent given recent allegations that Chinese military personnel have injured U.S. military personnel with high-powered lasers.
According to the report, the ZKZM-500 is a handheld laser assault rifle. Unlike ordinary sleek assault rifles, this weapon is a clunky rectangular shape with a pistol grip, foregrip, and a telescopic sight. The weapon is powered by a lithium battery capable of supplying power for up to a thousand two-second shots.
The ZKZM-500 can reportedly burn human beings, inflicting pain “beyond human endurance.” The weapon is supposedly so powerful it can set flammable clothes on fire, igniting the wearer, or burn through a gas tank and spark the fuel inside to cause an explosion. The weapon is silent, as there is no gunshot, and the beam is invisible, lending itself to covert military operations. The laser beam can pass through glass, injuring the person behind it.
The laser rifle is reportedly ready for mass production and will enter service with the People’s Armed Police, a heavily armed paramilitary law enforcement agency similar to European gendarmes.
There are a number of problems with this alleged weapon. First, its use in war is illegal under the 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. While the weapon may not have expressly been designed to blind human beings, it would indeed blind someone if it worked as advertised.
Most countries simply would not develop such a weapon and that would be that. China, on the other hand, appears to be getting around this by developing them for and issuing them to the People’s Armed Police, which has a domestic security mission. Another Chinese weapon, the PY-132A laser (see above), was expressly designed as a blinding laser.
Also, it’s difficult to believe this weapon is as powerful as advertised. Although the article discusses the weapon’s burning effects in detail, the ZKZM-500's wattage is conveniently left out. The U.S. Military is currently funding research into laser weapons that can do everything the ZKZM-500 reportedly can, but they are multi-kilowatt devices that are so large they must be mounted on armored vehicles or ships. Such a weapon may eventually reach the handheld stage, but nobody is quite there yet. (The weapon would also quickly grow so hot after even a few shots it would require a cooling mechanism.)
Power storage is another problem. The ZKZM-500 can reportedly fire a thousand two-second shots, the equivalent of 33 hours of laser power, from a “lithium battery.” There’s no way a weapon the size of a rifle can store that much energy internally given today's technology, even if it were stuffed with batteries. To store the equivalent of 33 hours of laser power would require a bank of batteries as large as a shipping container.
So, either China is seriously exaggerating the performance its “laser assault rifle” or the operates under serious technical restraints that make its usefulness in the field questionable. It’s far more likely that the laser operates at a much lower strength and is intentionally meant to blind rioters as part of an internal security role. Recent incidents involving Chinese military personnel injuring American military aircrews in Africa and the East China Sea shows Beijing has few qualms about using them to intentionally blind human beings. Whether the ZKZM-500 stays in paramilitary service or spreads to the People’s Liberation Army remains to be seen.
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