China’s ZKZM-500 “non-lethal” laser assault rifle, a handheld directed energy weapon billed as a “laser AK-47” that can purportedly ignite the clothing of targets nearly a half-mile away, is ready to be mass produced for state security forces, according to a highly dubious report in the South China Morning Post.
Before I get into why, exactly, this report is highly dubious, here are some deets.
- Researchers responsible for developing the prototype laser weapon at the Chinese Academy of Sciences claim it can “burn through clothes in a split second,” leading to “instant carbonization [sic]” of organic tissue.
- “If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire,” researchers told the South China Morning Post. “The pain will be beyond endurance.”
- The ZKZM-500 has a rechargeable 1000-shot lithium battery and weight profile similar to the AK-47.
- The South China Morning Post reports that the futuristic rifle is likely destined for state police counterterrorism squads.
- But researchers also see potential applications for covert military operations like disabling enemy infrastructure or fuel resources: “Nobody will know where the attack came from …It will look like an accident.”
- Range and weight are described, but the actual power system is not. Sure, anyone can claim OPSEC here, but it is hard to believe that the Chinese engineered a powerful-enough directed energy beam that can torch enemies from a half-mile away without being refracted by environmental factors like dust or fog—all with “a rechargeable lithium battery pack similar to those found in smartphones.”
- The author of the story refers to this boxy weapon as a “15mm caliber weapon.” I didn’t realize laser weapons had caliber? Oh wait, they don’t.
- The South China Morning Post isn’t state-run media (it’s owned by the Alibaba Group), but the story does come amid reported progress in the Chinese military’s electromagnetic railgun program. This one-two punch of groundbreaking directed energy weapon news—an area where the United States has lagged behind in recent years—suggest the ZKZM-500 update could just be another piece of science fiction propaganda designed to rankle the Pentagon.
Last point: Heat-based weapons are usually stupid. Consider, for example, the time T&P Pentagon correspondent Jeff Schogol stood directly in front of a non-lethal Active Denial System meant for crowd control and didn’t even break a sweat. Sure, lasers have come a long way since 2007, but this far? I doubt it.
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