spaceSpace and Physics

China Says It Is Developing A Laser Rifle That Can Burn Human Flesh – But Science Disagrees


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Pew pew. Fernando Cortes/Shutterstock

Skeptical hats on, people. China says it has developed a rifle that is capable of frying human flesh from quite a distance. But don’t be too convinced just yet.

As reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the $15,000 weapon is called the ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle, developed by a company called ZKZM Laser. It fires a beam that can’t be seen with the naked eye, but when it hits it causes “instant carbonization” of human skin.


They said that the 15-millimeter caliber weapon, which weighs 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds), has a range of about 800 meters (2,600 feet). It’s about the weight of an AK-47, small enough to be used by hand. And according to an unnamed researcher, the weapon can “burn through clothes in a split second,” adding that “if the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire.” Ouch.

“The pain will be beyond endurance,” they added, no doubt menacingly stroking a cat next to their pool of killer sharks. The SCMP said the weapon was now ready for mass production, and the first of them would be given to the Chinese Armed Police.

It’s noted though that the purpose of the gun is not to fire at people – which it wouldn’t kill with a single shot, but burn a hole like a surgical knife. Instead, it’s intended to be used for crowd control purposes like burning banners.

As TechCrunch picked up, however, there are some problems. First, the weapon has not actually been built – it’s a proof of concept. Also, it’s unlikely the gun can transfer enough power via a laser to actually cause any damage.


“There’s just no way that a laser powered by a lithium-ion battery that a person could carry would be capable of producing the kind of heat described at point blank range, let alone at 800 meters,” they said.

“That’s because of attenuation. Lasers, unlike bullets, scatter as they progress, making them weaker and weaker… By the time you get out to 800 [meters], the air and water the beam has traveled through enough to reduce it a fraction of its original power.

Other countries have tried and failed to build a portable laser gun like this before. The closest we’ve come is probably a weapon developed by the US Navy and shown off in July 2017, a huge cannon that was used to blow up a boat.  

Has China really done the seemingly impossible? The jury is well and truly still out on this one.


(H/T: South China Morning Post)


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