Lasers, by their very nature, have the potential for harm but most of the dangerous applications of the technology has been limited to science fiction until recently. But while companies like Lockheed Martin are scrambling to weaponize lasers, their Chines counterparts may have just one-upped them. According to a recent report, a Chinese tech firm has successfully developed a laser rifle no heavier than an AK-47 but has the ability to pierce through glass and metal undetected and set clothes, and humans, on fire.
This is pretty much the laser rifle, not gun, of science fiction. The ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle, development by a company owned by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics, weighs 3 kg (6.6 lbs) and has a range of 800 meters (0.5 mi). It can be powered by the same lithium-ion battery technology used in mobile devices and is completely silent and invisible.
The rifle is curiously being labeled as “non-lethal” but even researchers involved admit its lethal effects. It can pierce through gas tanks to set explosions. It can burn through flammable fabric in a split second. And if said fabric is worn by a human, it would burn through the human as well. Presuming the laser didn’t burn through him or her directly first.
Given its potential for harm, the license, sale, and use of the technology will most likely be closely monitored by the Chinese government. In fact, they might very well be the first and only customers for the ZKZM-500. It definitely gives them an edge over criminals and dangerous elements in society, as well as any other unfortunate target.
If things are exactly as the South China Morning Post reported, the country’s frenemies won’t take things sitting down. There is already a mounting argument between the US and China over the latter’s use of laser-based weapons, especially on vehicles disguised as “non-lethal” boats. This rifle definitely gives them an edge when it comes to stealth and power.