‘Laser AK-47’? Chinese developer answers sceptics with videos of gun being tested

After questions were raised about whether scientists exaggerated claims about the weapon, company releases footage of it being fired at targets on a rooftop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 9:41pm

The Chinese company behind a “laser AK-47” has released footage of the portable weapon being tested after media reports cast doubt on the claim that it can set fire to targets several hundred metres away.

On Sunday, the South China Morning Post reported that researchers involved in the project claimed that the ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle produced an energy beam that could not be seen by the naked eye but could pass through windows and cause “instant carbonisation” of human skin and tissue.

They said it was powered by a rechargeable lithium battery pack similar to those found in smartphones and could fire more than 1,000 “shots”, each lasting no more than two seconds.

But sceptics have questioned whether the scientists exaggerated the weapon’s capabilities – with statements about it being able to “burn through clothes in a split second” from a distance – saying such technology remained in the realm of science fiction.

“Such a laser may prove incapable of even popping a balloon,” one report on industry news website TechCrunch said.

“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 metres,” it said.

A key criticism is that lasers scatter as they progress, making them weaker and weaker.

“Attenuation is non-trivial at anything beyond, say, a few dozen metres,” the writer said. “Hopefully they give a real-world demonstration of the device soon and put me to shame.”

In response, the company developing the weapon, ZKZM Laser, released footage of the gun being tested on a rooftop in Xian, Shaanxi province, in May.

The location was chosen for safety reasons, to avoid anyone accidentally walking into the beam, the company said.

One of the clips shows the weapon being used to zap a board propped against a wall some distance away, but it is unclear how far.

The beam is not visible, and only as the cameraman – who is apparently jogging after the shots are fired – nears the board, can blackened holes and flame be seen.

Other clips show the weapon being tested on a car tyre and a T-shirt. When it is used to zap a piece of pork, it instantly begins smoking and someone is heard coughing in the background.

Again, it is unclear from the camera angle at what distance the weapon is used, but the team said none of the tests were carried out at its maximum range.

The company – which is owned by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences – claims the device can hit a target up to 800 metres (half a mile) away on a clear day, but its range could be affected by rain or fog.

The 15mm calibre weapon weighs 3kg (6.6lb) – about the same as an AK-47.

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“Our device is the world’s most advanced laser gun,” a company representative said on Wednesday.

He said that unlike most other laser weapons, “there is no need to measure the distance, no need to adjust the focus – just aim and shoot”.

“And after an upgrade it will be the world’s most advanced laser cannon – it will be able to take down a drone several kilometres away,” he added.

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The company said the laser device could not be sold to individuals or organisations because it did not have a licence to produce weapons.

But it is seeking a partner with such a licence, or from the security or defence industries, to start mass producing its prototype at a cost of 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) a unit.

Given the potential for misuse, the design and production of the devices would be tightly monitored and sold only to China’s military and police, it said.