To convince skeptics and naysayers the Chinese company that was the focus of international headlines after unveiling its “laser AK-47” that it claimed can set fire to a target from nearly a kilometer away has released a video of the weapon being tested as proof of its capability.
As we highlighted, among the first to call bullshit on the claims published in a South China Morning Post report detailing the ZKZM-500 produced by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences was a US military and veteran website.
After all, the original report touted the weapon could "burn through clothes in a split second… If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire. The pain will be beyond endurance," according to a Chinese weapons expert cited.
However the military commentary site Task and Purpose wrote: "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.'"
Indeed much of the skepticism focused on what would constitute an unprecedented and almost unbelievable leap in laser power source technology, as TechCrunch noted, "the power required to set a person aflame instantly from half a mile away is truly huge. Let’s just do a little napkin math here."
The article says that the gun is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the same in principle as those in your phone (though no doubt bigger). And it is said to be capable of a thousand two-second shots, amounting to two thousand seconds, or about half an hour total. A single laser “shot” of the magnitude tested by airborne and vehicle systems is on the order of tens of kilowatts, and those have trouble causing serious damage, which is why they’ve been all but abandoned by those developing them.
Let’s just pretend they work for a second, at those power levels — they use chemical batteries to power them, since they need to be emptied far faster than lithium ion batteries will safely discharge. But let’s say even then that we could use lithium ion batteries. The Tesla Powerwall is a useful comparator: it provides a few kilowatts of power and stores a few kilowatt-hours. And… it weighs more than 200 pounds.
“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,” TechCrunch concluded.
But a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report featuring the new test video says "in response" to the critics "the company developing the weapon, ZKZM Laser, released footage of the gun being tested on a rooftop in Xian, Shaanxi province, in May."
Though the company says the filmed test was not conducted at maximum range, citing "safety reasons, to avoid anyone accidentally walking into the beam" — as the beam is invisible and the device without sound, various objects are shown igniting, including clothing and even a tire.
The report describes:
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 tire 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.
A company spokesman cited by the SCMP said “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.”
The company says the ZKZM-500 could be used in both covert operations and police hostage situations: "it could be used to fire through windows at targets and temporarily disable the kidnappers while other units move in to rescue their captives," and further: "It could also be used in covert military operations. The beam is powerful enough to burn through a gas tank and ignite the fuel storage facility in a military airport."
We noted last week that it doesn't actually seem so far outside the realm of possibility considering what can now be built in a garage.
In 2015 Military.com covered the story of an American teenager who built a "laser shotgun" in his garage and demonstrated it could light things on fire from meters away.
If this was accomplished three years ago by industrious American kids in garages, imagine what the Chinese military-industrial complex can do. So there is probably reason to be concerned.
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Here are further ZKZM-500's capabilities and characteristics, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP):
- The portable laser weapon's energy beam cannot be seen by the naked eye, and the device makes no sound, and if concentrated for multiple bursts can set fire to a target from nearly a kilometer away.
- It's ready for mass production based on the prototype built by Xian-based ZKZM Laser, and though officially billed as "non-lethal" (merely indicating its lethal applications are less immediate than regular firearms) will be strictly controlled by the Chinese government, with use by anti-terror squads in the Chinese Armed Police.
- Powered by a rechargeable lithium battery pack akin to those found in smartphones and can fire more than 1,000 bursts with each lasting about two seconds.
- The laser has been tuned to an invisible frequency, thus "nobody will know where the attack came from. It will look like an accident," a researcher cited in the report said.
- The report notes that "The lasers cannot kill a target with a single shot, but if fired at a person for long enough the weapons would start to burn a hole in their body, cutting through them like a surgical knife."
- It is now ready for mass production and the first units are likely to be given to anti-terrorism squads in the Chinese Armed Police, who would have the capability to "carbonize" a living person.
- The laser can be easily mounted on cars, boats and planes, or can be a handheld tactical weapon, as it weights only three kilos (6.6lb), about the same as an AK-47.
- It marks a huge advance over the most recent laser "machine gun" announced by Chengdu Hengan Police Equipment Manufacturing company only last month, which can purportedly fire up to 500 meters, compared to the new weapon's 800 meters and greater power.